Dakota War College offers another lesson in logical fallacies, this time in the classic false dilemma. The fake-named GOP establishment blog contends that Senator Tim Johnson's hesitance to endorse legislation proposed by Senator John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem to combat pine beetle infestations means that the senior senator wants the Black Hills to burn down.
This false dilemma resembles the GOP-flackery floated by flailing proponents of Governor Daugaard's HB 1234 who say that if you don't back their preferred legislation, you must back a failing status quo. On education policy and on pine beetle policy, Republicans ignore the logical possibility of recognizing the need for action while still recognizing the need to weigh the pros and cons of any one proposal against other proposals.
Read the text of Senator Thune's National Forest Emergency Response Act (S. 2277—Rep Noem's H.R. 4331 is identical), and you'll see why any reader might hesitate to immediately jump on board. For one thing, the bill doesn't just address pine beetle infestations; it opens up forests affected by "pine beetle infestation, drought, disease, or storm damage" to emergency declarations. The bill exempts "any remedial action or... timber sale" performed under the emergency rules from any "restraining order, preliminary injunction, or injunction pending appeal," a seemingly remarkable removal of checks on executive power.
My Republican friends like to rib us Dems over Rahm Emanuel's oft-cited advice about not letting a crisis go to waste. But the content of S. 2277 suggests that Senator Thune and Rep. Noem are following that advice exactly and trying to do much more than simply addressing the pine beetle problem at hand.
The proposed deregulations are also filled with the unannotated cross-references to existing statute that justify Senator Johnson and any other responsible reader's saying, "Hold on: before I say I'll vote for this bill, I need to read all the other laws it cites and changes and make sure I'm not missing some trick."
Larry Kurtz pointed me toward the bill text; he's already sure Thune and Noem are more worried about boosting Big Timber, not engaging in effective pine beetle management. Kurtz, who knows more about the forest than DWC, me, and all of our commenters combined, blasts the GOP approach and proposes the following solution:
Beetle-killed Ponderosa pine is substantially lighter than green timber, for one thing. That the youngest trees need to go is number two. Logging companies want the legacy trees that need to stay: number three. The Forest Service is broken: four.
It's not a beetle problem or even a money problem: it's a water problem. Preserve the legacy pine, select cut everything else, convert it to fuel, and burn to encourage aspen to begin the process of healing the living water/rock that is the Black Hills [Larry Kurtz, "Earth Haters Won't Fix the Black Hills," interested party, 2012.04.13].
By Republican logic, I should be able to demand that Senator Johnson endorse Kurtz's approach or stand guilty of advocating fiery death for all of us living things in and around the Black Hills. (Wow: this talk of fiery death sounds like the debate over building a new gym in Madison last year!) But logically, Senator Johnson reserves the right to read all proposals thoroughly, measure advantages and disadvantages, and cast an informed vote.
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p.s. on piddling around: If we really are in a pine beetle emergency, Senator Thune and Rep. Noem aren't really acting like it. Instead of pushing for immediate, focused action, Thune and Noem are planning to tuck their pine beetle legislation away in the Farm Bill, which may take a while to formulate and which will mask debate on the specifics of this proposal. If pine beetles are an urgent problem, and if Thune and Noem have a good solution, they should be able to propose it now and push it through Congress on its own merits.