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Congressman Tom McClintock

Representing the 4th District of California

Abundance or Shortages: That is the Question

September 28, 2012

Abundance or Shortages: That is the Question
Tuolumne County Alliance for Resources and Economy
Congressman Tom McClintock
Sonora, California
September 28, 2012

 Up until a generation ago, federal resources policy could be summed up in a single word: abundance.  In 1905, we instituted the National Forest Service under the guidance of Gifford Pinchot, who summed up the agency’s mission with this simple maxim: “The greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.”

 We recognized that America’s vast natural resources gave us the tools for unparalleled prosperity, and that we should responsibly manage these resources on a sustainable basis for the continuing prosperity of the American people.

We embarked upon an era of hydroelectric dam construction that produced abundant supplies of clean and inexpensive water and hydroelectricity and critically important flood control and made a major contribution to protecting our environment.
We practiced sound forest management, opening up our vast timber resources to sustainable, responsible harvesting, providing healthy, fire-resistant, disease resistant forests and a thriving economy in regions like this. 

We recognized the importance of America’s vast energy resources, and that responsible development of those resources could fuel the prosperity of the nation while protecting the lands for future generations.

We recognized the important role that public access to the public lands plays in promoting tourism and recreation and welcomed the public to the public’s land.

But some time in the 1970’s, a radical and retrograde ideology began seeping into our public resources policy.  It reasoned that any public use of the land is incompatible with nature.  The principle object of federal resources policy shifted from sustainable abundance to benign neglect.  It springs from a bizarre notion that government must restore mother earth to her pristine, prehistoric condition, even if it means restoring the human population to its pristine, prehistoric condition. The result has been devastating to both the economy and the environment.

Let’s start with water policy. 

Some people seem to have forgotten that before the era of dam construction, an endless cycle of withering droughts and violent floods constantly plagued our watersheds.  Our dams tamed these environmentally devastating events, they assured abundant water in dry years and protected against the ravages of flood years.  By conserving water that would otherwise have been lost to the ocean, they turned deserts into oases and laid the foundation for a century of growth and prosperity for the American west.

 Beginning in the 1970’s hydroelectric dam construction ceased.  The last major water facility in this state, the New Melones dam, was in 1979, when the population of California was not 2/3 of what it is today.  Projects like the Auburn Dam, which would conserve enough water for a population of 2 ½ million people, provide enough electricity for a million homes at ridiculously low prices and provide 400-year flood protection for the Sacramento Delta were simply abandoned in mid construction.

 Not satisfied with blocking construction of new dams – they are now seeking to destroy our existing facilities. 

My district touches the Klamath Valley, where the environmental left seeks to spend well over a quarter billion dollars tearing down four perfectly good hydroelectric dams capable of producing clean and inexpensive electricity for the equivalent of 150,000 homes. 

At a time when California is using less electricity per capita than any other state; when we already pay among the highest electricity prices in the nation; when we can’t guarantee enough electricity to keep people’s refrigerators running this summer – today we’re under the threat of rolling blackouts -- when we face a crushing budget deficit: this proposal is simply insane.

They say that this is necessary to save dwindling populations of salmon on the Klamath.  Yet, the Iron Gate fish hatchery produces five million salmon smolts each year, 17,000 of which return to the Klamath as fully-grown adults to spawn – but they’re not included in the population count.  To add insult to insanity, when they tear down the Iron Gate dam, the Iron Gate fish hatchery goes with it. 

This radical movement even opposes small hydroelectric generators in existing pipelines and canals, though this accomplishes everything the Environmental Left claims it likes: absolutely clean and renewable electricity in vast quantities – at precisely no cost to taxpayers -- on projects that have already undergone environmental review.

There are untold thousands of miles of pipelines and canals and aqueducts at these facilities that convey water downhill by simple gravity.  This is water in existing facilities that that is utterly devoid of any life whatsoever and therefore has no conceivable environmental impact whatsoever.

 These existing pipelines, equipped with simple hydroelectric generators, could generate the electricity it would take dozens of major, multi-billion dollar hydroelectric dams across the west to produce.

But that isn’t happening today for a very simple and utterly absurd reason.  Government regulations make it economically impossible, doubling the cost of installation and making them cost-prohibitive.

Meanwhile, our government dumps billions of gallons of fresh water into the Pacific Ocean for the enjoyment and amusement of the Delta Smelt, while it turns hundreds of thousands of acres of fertile farmland to dust and throws thousands of California families into unemployment while our grocery prices skyrocket.

They apply the same ideology to forest policy with particularly devastating results to our region. 

An old forester in my district summed up the problem we are here to assess when he said, “The excess timber is going to come out of the forest one way or another.  Either it will be carried out or it will be burned out.  But it will come out.”

 A generation ago, we carried it out and the result was a thriving economy and a healthy forest.  But that same radical and retrograde ideology that has produced chronic and growing water and electricity shortages has also transformed sound forest management practices into what I can only describe as benign neglect. 

 The result is now clear and undeniable: economically devastated communities, closed timber mills, unemployed families, overgrown forests, overdrawn watersheds, jeopardized transmission lines, rampant disease and pestilence and increasingly intense and frequent forest fires.

 That is the story of towns throughout the Sierra Nevada, including right here in Sonora – once thriving and prosperous communities that have been devastated by these policies. 

 When the mills in Quincy and Camino and Sonora closed in 2009, the owner made it very clear that although the economic downturn was a catalyst, the underlying cause was the fact that environmental litigation held up 2/3 of the timber they depended upon.

 Despite the recession, they still had enough business to keep the mills open --– and to keep these families employed – if the Environmental Left had not cut off the timber that those mills depended upon.

 This is not environmentalism.  True environmentalists recognize the damage done by overgrowth and overpopulation and recognize the role of sound, sustainable forest management practices in maintaining healthy forests. 

No picture I’ve seen paints a more vivid case for returning to these sound and proven forest management practices than an aerial photo of the Fraser Experimental Forest in Colorado a few years ago that is often called the “Red Hand of Death.”  The areas of that forest consigned to benign neglect forms a dead-zone that looks like a “Red Hand.” Overgrown and unmanaged, bark beetles found it easy pickings.  That’s what the so-called environmental movement has done to our forests.

A green, thriving, healthy forest surrounds the dead-zone, in which sound forest practices harvested excess timber and the remaining trees had enough room to grow strong enough to resist the infestation around it.
 They say there isn’t enough money for forest thinning, and yet we used to have no problems keeping our forests thinned and healthy when we sold commercially viable timber.  The problem is that if they take place at all, timber harvests are restricted to small diameter trees.  Can you imagine a fishery or wildlife policy limited to taking only the small, juvenile of the species?

 Today, thousands of acres of timber lie in ashes across the Sierra Nevada from fires this year.  If we had just harvested a small fraction of those trees, it is likely that we could have spared these forests from the conflagrations that fed on excessive fuels.

 It’s also likely that we could have snuffed out those fires almost immediately after they started.  A generation ago, small harvesting crews operated throughout the mountains and moved along well-maintained timber roads.  When a fire first broke out, it took no time for a crew with a bulldozer to get to that fire and stop it before it got out of control.  Those crews are gone, the roads in disrepair, and so fires that a generation ago consumed just a few acres now consume hundreds of thousands of acres.

Meanwhile, an entire region whose economy thrived on harvesting excess timber growth has been plunged into poverty by its own government.

They say that tourism will replace our resources as the fountain of prosperity, but the government has actively discouraged tourism as well.

You are all painfully aware of the concerted effort of the Forest Service in this region to strangle the roads that provide for public access to the public’s lands.

After imposing punitive new conditions on routine events with the obvious intention of shutting them down, the government now tells us it's providing a service by ordering applicants to produce thousands of dollars of studies and that the applicants ought to pay for these services. 

After driving out cabin owners and grazing operations with cost-prohibitive fees, they say they’re just trying to reflect market conditions.  This raises the question, if these are market rates, why aren’t the cabin sites and grazing lands being re-leased? 

 They say they have to shut down forest roads for lack of funds, yet when local communities step forward, as they have on the Rubicon trail, and offer to pay for maintenance from non-federal funds, the government says “no.”

 There is no greater recreational resource than Lake Tahoe, and yet, an economic study of the basin last year revealed that the occupancy rate of hotels there is running at a dismal 30 percent.  Food stamp usage is up 40 percent in the last four years.  School enrollment is down 35 percent over the past decade. The basin’s population has plunged by nine percent, and according to the study, the “middle class is leaving the region in droves.”

 The Tahoe citizens who call my office complain of bureaucrats who thwart their attempts to protect their property from fire danger, or to make minor and harmless improvements to their homes.  They complain of exorbitant fees or denial of simple permits by boards they can’t even elect.

 They feel these bureaucracies crush every attempt they make to develop or improve their property with a permitting process that usually costs more than the project itself. In one case, a homeowner who needed to make $8,000 in pier repairs found it would cost between $20,000 and $25,000 just in permit fees. 

 Worse, none of the agencies co-ordinate with each other, so one agency will require actions that another agency prohibits.

 At Yosemite, the Master Plan outlines a program to remove all private cars from the valley.  So if you take your kids to Yosemite, instead of having the blankees and binkies and snacks and toys and camping equipment with you, you will get to pack it all up, board a government bus, and ride 40 miles to the park.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?

 The fact is that tourists don’t go where they’re not welcomed, or where facilities are left to decay because simple repairs can’t be made, or where prices are inflated to pay for exorbitant fees, or where forest fires have scarred the landscape.

 We have a sacred obligation to future generations to preserve and protect our public lands.  But protecting our public lands for future generations doesn’t mean we must close them to the current generation. 

 The good news is that the American people are awakening.  I have held public office now for 25 years.  I have actively involved in the political arena for 40 years.  Never have I seen the level of public involvement and public engagement that I have seen in the last three years.

I think they realize that there are two very different public policies that are competing for the future of our nation.

The future advocated by the Environmental Left is one of increasingly severe government-induced shortages, higher and higher electricity and water rates, skyrocketing grocery prices and spreading food shortages, increasingly severe and frequent forest fires, and a permanently declining quality of life for our families who will be required to stretch and ration every drop of water and every watt of electricity in their bleak, sweltering and dimly lit homes – homes in which gravel replaces green lawns and the toilets constantly back up.

I see a different future for our nation.  I see a new era of clean, cheap and abundant hydro-electricity; great new reservoirs to store water in wet years to protect us from shortages in dry ones.  I see a future in which forest communities no longer live in constant fear of annihilation by conflagration and in which a thriving economy restores the prosperity and vitality these communities once knew.  I see a future in which tourists are again welcomed to our national parks and forests.  I see a nation whose families can look forward to a green front lawn, a lush garden or cool swimming pool in the backyard, inexpensive and reliable air-conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter, brightly lit homes and cities, and abundant and affordable groceries from America’s agricultural cornucopia.

That is one of the many clear choices the American people will make in coming days.  From what I’ve seen and heard across the country -- and here today -- I believe our brightest days are yet ahead.