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Dems, environmentalists oppose bill aimed at saving iconic California trees from wildfires

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Daily Caller News Foundation

Some Democrats and environmentalist groups oppose a bill aimed at saving California’s iconic sequoia trees from wildfires, according to The Washington Post’s The Climate 202.

The Save Our Sequoias Act, pushed by Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California, would expedite environmental reviews to carry out “Protection Projects” like controlled burns, forest thinning and other activities to protect the sequoias from wildfires. While the bill has bipartisan support, some Democrats and environmental activists accuse its backers of trying to undermine “bedrock environmental laws” like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), according to The Climate 202.

“I would hope that taking bites out of NEPA would give my colleagues pause,” Democratic California Rep. Jared Huffman told The Climate 202.

The bill, which would provide over $300 million in sequoia-protecting initiatives over the next decade, will be marked up Wednesday by the House Natural Resources Committee, according to The Climate 202. Save Our Sequoias Act would allow the U.S. Forest Service to bypass NEPA’s review and the Endangered Species Act’s analysis ahead of launching the projects.

The legislators pushing the bill must hold off on “these horrific attacks on our bedrock environmental laws,” Blaine Miller-McFeeley, a senior legislative representative at Earthjustice, told The Climate 202. Earthjustice is one of many liberal environmental groups that signed on to a letter last year to Congress in opposition to the bill, along with the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters.

The bill’s proponents insist that the legislation wouldn’t water down environmental regulations, including two of the act’s co-sponsors, according to The Climate 202.

“The agencies still have to go through the NEPA process,” Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas told The Climate 202. “It just allows them to do the work in an emergency situation. And this actually would be better for endangered species because you’re saving their habitat.”

“If NEPA turns out to be the thing standing in the way of us protecting the environment, we’ve really got to look ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘Let’s modernize it,’” Democratic Rep. Scott Peters of California told The Climate 202.

Sequoias draw particular conservationist interests as they are some of the oldest and largest trees that have persisted over thousands of years, with some growing to more than 4 feet in diameter, according to the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition. From 2015 to 2021, over 85% of sequoia fields have burned in wildfires, and the coalition reports losing 13% to 19% of mature giant sequoias in the past two years.

In 2022, California experienced nearly 7,500 wildfires, burning a total of 362,455 acres, according to the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and McCarthy did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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Republished with permission from Daily Caller News Foundation

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