Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has seen the light. People -- specifically, people who live and vote in his home state of South Dakota -- must come before plant life. This sudden insight was illuminated by the glare of 50,000 forest fires, which have burned through nearly 4 million acres across the country so far this summer, threatening residents and firefighters alike.
Daschle wasn't going to let some ridiculous gubmint regulations get in the way of protecting his vulnerable Black Hills from the flames. So, as The Washington Times reported earlier this week, the Sierra Club-backed Democrat slipped a special exemption from environmental rules into a defense supplemental spending bill. The exemption allows logging in the forests of South Dakota to reduce the fuel supply and snuffs out environmental lawsuits that have obstructed timber projects for the past two decades.
Not a peep has been heard from the green attack dogs at the Sierra Club, but lawmakers in other tinderbox states are rightly voicing their outrage. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., said: "It certainly can only be described as blatant hypocrisy on behalf of the Senate leader to claim on one hand to be the champion of the environment and then on the other hand to cut a special deal for his home state." Republicans in both the House and Senate plan to introduce legislation extending logging and lawsuit exemptions to federal forest lands in every other state at risk of catastrophic wildfire.
That is a good start. But we need to take this bold, new Daschle principle
-- people before obstructionist environmental rules -- much further. What's good for Daschle and South Dakota must be good not only for the rest of the country, but also for the U.S. military.
As I wrote on Tuesday, the House this week rejected a request by our armed forces to allow the Navy to conduct training exercises at sea without the constant threat of marine mammal "harassment" lawsuits. The military also faces opposition to a broader request to exempt some military training grounds from the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which currently contains no exemption for national security.
Now, more than ever, preparing our men and women in uniform for combat in the most realistic circumstances possible is imperative. That's hard to do when soldiers must tiptoe around the habitats of endangered desert tortoises, sidestep hundreds of species of plants, and refrain from nighttime exercises, beach exercises, amphibious landings and live-fire training exercises -- lest they be sued by the nearest anti-military environmental group.
The Department of Defense isn't asking to run roughshod over the environment. It has owned up to past pollution and eco-sins, and invests billions of dollars and thousands of man-hours in environmental protection and mitigation measures. The exemption request is focused narrowly on military readiness. It seeks to preserve training grounds in places such as Fort Bragg, N.C., where the designation of 14 critical habitats has severely limited where recruits can camp, fire weapons and dig.
The story's the same at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, Coronado Naval Amphibious Base and San Clemente Island in California, at Fort Hood, Texas, Fort Polk, La., and at Farallon de Medinilla. The latter is an uninhabited island in the West Pacific that served as a critical firing range for the Navy and Marine Corps until it was shut down this spring by an environmental lawsuit over migratory birds that might be unintentionally harmed during exercises.
The plaintiffs have also targeted Navy bombing exercises at the site. As military experts point out, the Farallon de Medinilla ruling could potentially put at risk a wide range of aviation, telecommunications and live-fire training activities nationwide.
Tom Daschle supports the need to "avoid costly, time-consuming lawsuits" over environmental rules when wildfires threaten the lives of South Dakotans. Why doesn't the Democrat leader do the same for American soldiers and sailors, who deserve the best training possible before being sent to face enemy fire around the world?