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Congressman Charles Taylor (NC-11) Stokes Firestorm With Misleading Press Release on Forest Sale

Republican Congressman Charles Taylor is already in one of the most competitive nationwide congressional races in 2006. He’s being challenged by former UTK quarterback Heath Shuler out in NC-11, which includes Asheville, Hendersonville, Black Mountain, and the surrounding west to the Tennessee state line.

Taylor made things just a little bit harder for himself this week by lying about communications with the National Forest Service and the state of the White House’s plan to sell off 300,000 acres of our beloved national forests in 41 states. It is the largest ever sale of its kind according to the Forest Service.

The sale includes almost 10,000 acres in NC alone, more than half of which is in Taylor’s own district!, apx. 3500 acres of the Nantahala National Forest, and apx. 2000 acres of the Pisgah National Forest areas of his district.

Taylor is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, which funds national forests… (yikes…)

The Southern Environmental Law Center points out that despite our relative lack of national forest land, fast-growing population, and increasing demand for backcountry recreation, the forest sale is skewed against the South.

… both North Carolina, with a total of 1.25 million acres of national forest, and Oregon, with a total of 15.55 million acres, have about 10,000 proposed for sale. Yet under the funding formula currently used, North Carolina would get just $1 million in 2006, while Oregon would get almost $163 million.

So, Taylor can’t immediately make up his mind about selling off over 5500 acres of national forests in his district at thrift store prices while other places make off like bandits?

The administration/industry line is that the money will be going to help rural schools, but there’s a few problems with that…

According to the Charlotte Observer Taylor’s district wouldn’t be the one benefit…

While land prices are growing at gold-rush rates, proceeds from the 2,750 acres the Forest Service wants to sell there wouldn’t be returned to Macon County. A government formula gives it pennies on the dollar.

In fact, the whole link to “education for rural kids” seems to be likely rhetorical.
From the LA Times

In a companion proposal inserted into this week’s massive 2007 budget, White House officials directed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to sell off at least $350 million worth of public land, with the money to go directly to the general treasury.

So of course Charles Taylor comes out against it?!
Well…sort of.

The Forest Service and local politicians saw such an enormous outcry during the 30-day comment period that Taylor caved and came out with not only a statement of opposition, but saying that the USFS chief Bosworth had testified in Committee and the deal was over.

… “During this hearing, I told Chief Bosworth directly and plainly that the Administration’s proposal to dispose of 300,000 acres of national forest lands was not going to happen”
– Charles Taylor

Phone calls stopped, letters dried up, and local meetings in opposition to the deal were cancelled. We had won!

BUT…
A couple of local bloggers quickly called with the Forest Service to verify that what Taylor had said was indeed true. Imagine the USFS’ surprise to be told that Taylor was declaring the deal done. Neither President Bush nor the USFS was done with the deal. Taylor STILL has not released an official trustworthy position on the bill. So how could it be done?

Remember, this is the guy who says he opposed CAFTA, then caved to pressure from the Bush Administration, voted for it, then said his voted was miscalculated.

Meanwhile, Heath Shuler, who is challenging Taylor for his seat, came out immediately opposed to the deal and led all the way. Asheville and the surrounding areas are all very environmental, and Taylor’s waffling on this bill is not going to impress anybody.

I can see why Taylor, though the incumbent, is so intensely disliked by so many in his district, and it seems to have more to do with his pattern of trying to keep government closed and constituents in the dark so that we don’t send comments and emails to SRS_Land_Sales@fs.fed.us by May 30th (hint hint…) which is the end of the comment period the forest service set aside to hear public thoughts on the great firesale of our national forests.

UPDATE 1: Good news from Mr. Taylor. I wouldn’t trust this farther than I could throw it, but Taylor has released an official weekly statement opposing the deal.

“Today, I sent a letter to my colleague Jim Nussle, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, sharing that same opposition with him – and asking that he reject any attempts to include the proposal as part of the Fiscal Year 2007 Congressional Budget Resolution.”

You can call and thank him for doing the right thing at 202-224-3121

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