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Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2007-- Continued

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Chairman, once again we are confronted with the question of how to manage one of our great national treasures, the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. It is my hope that we will choose more wisely this time.

The choice here is really quite simple. We can choose to follow the law and respect the results of the forest planning process, or we can trump the law and substitute our own political needs for those of an economically depressed region of the country.

The gentleman's amendment is the final piece of a long-standing strategy to do one thing and one thing only, to kill what remains of the forest products industry in Alaska. This is not a decision about protecting pristine forests. My friends, we have already done that. More than 96 percent of the Tongass National Forest has not and will not be managed for timber under the existing forest plan. This amendment simply says ``get lost'' to the last few sawmills in the region and the hundreds of jobs they provide.

The Tongass National Forest has a newly revised forest management plan, a carefully considered plan that took more than 13 years to complete. The plan provided for careful roadless area management following established planning processes, including extensive public participation. The gentleman's amendment ignores all of this for no other reason than to shut down the Alaska timber industry.

I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' on this amendment.


Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the amendment. I do so always reluctantly when it involves my good friend from Florida (Mr. Putnam), with whom I have the greatest respect.

But in 1981, Congress enacted a ban on energy exploration covering more than 85 percent of U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. At the time, U.S. natural gas prices were the lowest in the industrialized world. Today, U.S. natural gas prices are the highest in the industrialized world.

Prices for natural gas continue to increase while the government continues to promote new natural gas consumption. To balance the market, we need to invest in efficient and alternative energy. But we also need to increase access to new sources of supply to keep pace with new sources of demand.

The high cost of natural gas has a major impact on both the farm and forest sector. Paper mills, a major employer in my district, are very energy intensive. Energy costs account for 18 percent of the cost of operating a mill, almost eclipsing costs for employee compensation. The impacts have been dramatic. Over 232 paper mills across the country have closed, and 182,000 jobs lost since 2000, when energy prices started a steep rise.

For farmers, higher natural gas prices mean higher costs for fertilizers. According to the USDA, average fertilizer prices in March 2006 stood 74 percent higher than their 1990-1992 level, very near all time high records. The Interior appropriations bill begins to address the supply piece of the puzzle to help bring natural gas prices down.

We can no longer continue to ban access to large sources of supply, even as we continue to encourage new demand. The bill exempts natural gas from the congressional ban on energy development in the OCS. The ban on oil development remains in place. It allows the Federal Government to begin the process of developing these important resources.

The bill's provisions are a starting point. It is the first time in a quarter century that Congress is acknowledging that it can no longer continue to promote natural gas consumption and, at the same time, prohibit more production.

I urge my colleagues to oppose the amendment.


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