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Norton Wants To Streamline Framework Reviews

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The U.S. interior secretary visiting Nevada Thursday is offering her two cents on a controversial logging proposal aimed at reducing wildfire threats.

Gale Norton told reporters in Reno that unlike Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, the Bush administration is not yet ready to waive major environmental laws so as to expedite logging to reduce wildfires.

Norton says she´s extremely concerned about overstocked forests contributing to fires in the West and is examining a variety of ways to accelerate reductions of fuels.

But she says she was surprised that the South Dakota Democrat went so far as to push an amendment through the Senate exempting such projects in his home state from environmental assessments under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Norton says she is looking at ways to streamline environmental reviews within the framework of existing environmental laws.

She says Daschle´s idea to waive all environmental analysis goes further than anything the administration has ever proposed.

Daschle´s measure on the way to the White House would exempt a 700-acre timber sale in the Black Hills from NEPA and the National Forest Management Act and insulate the logging from any court challenges by environmentalists.

The legislation applies only to the Black Hills. But Daschle said he could support similar legislation for other states.

Nevada Republican Congressman Jim Gibbons is among those who introduced a bill in the House today that would effectively apply the Daschle measure to all states.

Gibbons says it is necessary, in his words, “to ensure that all our beautiful forests are not reduced to mere charcoal.” Environmentalists oppose such a broad waiver of the nation´s leading environmental laws.

Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project in the Sierra says the move would eliminate environmental laws and close the courthouse doors to appeals of projects with the potential to harm wildlife and actually increase fire risks.