Senator Patrick Leahy says Governor Jim Douglas’s last minute opposition to legislation that creates more wilderness areas in the Green Mountain National Forest could derail the entire project.
Douglas says he’s raising the issue because Vermont’s Congressional delegation has ignored his concerns about the legislation.
VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) It’s very unusual for Vermont’s Congressional delegation to engage in a major political fight with the governor but that’s exactly what’s happened over a plan involving the future of the Green Mountain National Forest.
While the U.S. Forest Service has proposed adding roughly 27 thousand acres of wilderness area – legislation drafted by the state’s congressional delegation increased the amount to almost 48 thousand acres – this means that logging, development and all terrain vehicle use would be banned on approximately one quarter of the national forest.
Leahy says the decision was made after holding 70 public hearings and receiving comments from nearly 10,000 Vermonters.
The legislation was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate earlier this week and is now being considered in the House.
Following the Senate’s passage of the bill, Douglas urged the Republican leadership of the House Resources committee to scale back the amount of land being designated as wilderness.
Leahy says Douglas’s actions could undermine the future of the legislation:
(Leahy)”Our surveys show that a majority of Vermonters want it and to suddenly say to the Republican leadership in the House we want you to stop this bill that was passed and approved by all Republicans and Democrats in the Senate is unfortunate I’d rather go with what is Vermont’s best interest.”
Leahy says he was stunned by Douglas’s letter to the House committee:
(Leahy)”He had expressed some concerns about areas around Glastenbury we said we’d be happy to work that out but then never heard further and almost had it we’d either do it entirely his way or no way I’m afraid he may have decided to do it no way. The fact is we’ve put together a good bill.”
Douglas is defending his actions. He bristled at the suggestion that his involvement is a last minute effort to defeat the bill:
(Douglas)”The senator and his staff indicated to me several weeks ago that there was room for a compromise room for a middle ground but they choose not to negotiate they just passed a bill anyway.”
Douglas says he hopes Congress will revisit this issue and pass a bill that better reflects the needs of Vermont:
(Douglas)”I want to take senator Leahy and his offer of several weeks ago to find some middle ground and reach a compromise that adds significant wilderness area to Vermont I’d strongly support that as I think most Vermonters do but not as much as is in the bill that has passed the Senate.”
Congress is scheduled to adjourn at the end of next week but it’s expected to return to Washington for a lame duck session in late November.
Douglas says that should give Vermont officials enough time to draft a new compromise bill.
For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier