The Arizona Congressman discusses the Wallow Fire, the Four Forest Restoration Initiative and a land exchange bill for a Resolution Copper mine near Superior, Ariz.
Ted Simons: The wallow fire is now at nearly 520,000 acres and 51% contained. Several Arizona lawmakers visited the fire area over the weekend, including Congressman Paul Gosar, a Republican representing Arizona's first congressional district where the Wallow fire is located. Congressman Gosar joins us tonight to talk about the Wallow fire and how to protect Arizona's forests from these kinds of wildfires. Thanks for joining us.
Paul Gosar: Thanks for having me.
Ted Simons: Status now, sounds like they've got to handle a lot of wind this weekend, true?
Paul Gosar: We were up there on Saturday and they had high wind warnings and the same yesterday. With the direction it pushed into the New Mexico area and they have standing evacuations to those on that side.
Ted Simons: We're getting some containment, a little bit at a time. Positive there. But once it's said and done, talk about the flooding concerns, the mudslides, the sludge, that's coming, isn't it?
Paul Gosar: It is. We learned this routine in Flagstaff from the fire there. We had a little town hall and advised people to get flood insurance in advance because it takes 30 days to get that enacted. We've got a lot of problems coming.
Ted Simons: Towns alpine--
Paul Gosar: We actually have them for anybody concerned. There are steep slopes on those roads and that doesn't eliminate folks in Springerville and Eagar.
Ted Simons: Flood prevention plan. Things like planting vegetation, maybe putting up diversionary walls. Are they being done?
Paul Gosar: Well that's what we sat down and talked about with Chief Tidwell and Corman Numen also. We talked with the regional office and talking about what is going to be operational and what we can do. The steep slopes they're trying to put the timber back and slowing the water progression and may have to take some roads out as far as the culverts to allow water to go across it. This is going to be a massive problem.
Ted Simons: When the fire was early on, you said, among the causes, not the cause but among the causes was a federal ban on old growth removal. Explain that.
Paul Gosar: Well, it's the lawsuits that come around with trying to salvage and save, not allowing anyone into the old growth forest. And a dynamic forest is small tree, medium and tall trees. We have blights, we have bark beetles, a lot of cankers and they're susceptible in different ranges in life of a tree. And what we found is that we've got eco-terrorism where we prohibit working this our forest and we've got growth of 22-tons just biomass on the floor and a bunch more in the thinning process. That's where we've got a problem and we spent $75 million to this point on the Wallow fire when we could have been employing people to landscape these vast areas of Arizona.
Ted Simons: We talked to some folks, who may be called eco-terrorists by you. Folks who said the problem are especially the younger trees, maybe 80, 90 years of age. That no one in business in the logging industry seems to want these sorts of things and yet these are the things that wind up resulting these crown fires, the fires that go to the top of the old growth trees. Are they wrong?
Paul Gosar: It's a -- it's not just one part of that aspect. It's the whole biomass of thinning on the floor. When it's sitting that deep, it doesn't take much to sit there and smolder and then it naturally goes not crown of the forest. But it is something we have to start taking care of and there is a mass. We have the a group of environmentalists along with industry that goes up to 16 inches in diameter starting to thin the forest and we've got lots of aspects. It does not have to be a dimensional number anymore. We're seeing some of these new types of plywoods, CDX, different panels made out of chipboard. So the lumber industry has been innovative and we've got something on the table.
Ted Simons: Sounds like the FOUR forest, a restoration initiative. Sounds like a lot of people are onboard with it. Sounds like now some RFPs have come flying? What are you hearing regarding RFPs?
Paul Gosar: It took us to last week to get that RFP and I want to thank Chief Tidwell for going that extra mile for that, it was supposed to be announced in March 2009 and finally got it here. We can't have these obstacles, Ted, that we're seeing - obstacles. You know amoeba that takes 6 years! We're going to have to get in the forest and clean it and start with the salvaging. It's a good opportunity.
Ted Simons: You're seeing by way of the initiate, that there are new businesses, new industries that may be we can't imagine right now that are ready to come in and do something. This is landscape-style stuff, not just clearing out a little area. Its thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of acres.
Paul Gosar: This is something that even Wally Covington up in northern Arizona has been professing and it's time we got involved in here. But it's a good group that's got something on the table. We've got to put it into motion. One of the firefighters who is just 30 years old, an old-timer said I'd see one of these fires maybe in my lifetime and I've already seen two.
Ted Simons: Are you encouraged by what seems to be cooperation between industry environmentalists and scientists and the whole nine yards? Are you encouraged by that?
Paul Gosar: I am. When we started working with people, trying to get things done, we've seen a really nice forte of everybody helping each other out. How do we progress from a smaller aspect like Schultz pass fire to something bigger and landscaped.
Ted Simons: And probably can't start for another one, two years.
Paul Gosar: Absolutely not.
Paul Gosar: Right now, we have to look at the salvage and we have a little over a year. Because once they get moisture - - These are really dry sticks but they're still salvageable and there still can be some management. The forest service has the ability and the chief has the availability of 200 feet on either side of any roadways to get a variance to allow that to start happening. We have a mill in the White River Apache reservation and we have the White Mountain stewardship and smaller mills and we can get that started.
Ted Simons: At the start of the problem program, I talked about the decision today interior department on the Uranium mining claims up near the Grand Canyon. Your response to that?
Paul Gosar: It's sad. We're overlooking the aspect of being good stewards for energy policy as well as what does the United States interior department have to hide? We've got a dump sitting up at Tuba city, authorized by the interior department and we haven't taken care of that dump site and yet the mining is imposed upon because of the bad stewardship from the federal government.
Ted Simons: The idea it has a history of land and water pollution, there concerns coming from the other side. These are coming from the other side, saying that the aquifers could be depleted. These are concerns that affect those who don't want to see any more claims up there. You would say?
Paul Gosar: Well, I think even talking to the folks on the other side, I think there's things about the Grand Canyon, we have open columns exposed within the canyon, and so are you doing yourself a justice here? We went and toured one of these sites. It's a clean mining aspect. You're taking something out and replacing it with something pretty inert. It's a smaller scale and 20-30 acres and very collapsed in form and so I think there's a golden opportunity to have some very good mining propositions. Not on scare tactics.
Ted Simons: You think there's enough study?
Paul Gosar: I think there is and you're mindful of where you're going. When you're importing 95% of the Uranium into the country for energy, it's an energy issue.
Ted Simons: One other issue. The lands swap for a copper mine up near Superior. What do we hear on that?
Paul Gosar: We had a hearing in the subcommittee and it goes to committee for a vote and hopefully to the floor by the end of the summer session.
Ted Simons: Critics say there was a compromise in the past and the compromise in the past. And this compromise in the past dealt with having an environmental impact study before the land swap. Your bill -- what you're pushing has the environmental impact study after the land swap and that's causing problems with the Obama administration and the forest service. Did you change that? And why did you change that?
Paul Gosar: Exactly right. If I'm a businessman, I have to detail the NEPA. Is the Federal Government or the taxpayer going to pay for the NEPA? There are no excuses for businesses not to pick that claim up. They don't get to side step the ecological aspects from the army core of engineers to the interioirs to water. But what's happening, instead of the taxpayer pay, the industry is going to pick it up and I think we're fiscally responsible when we do the bill that way.
Ted Simons: But still, the swap has occurred and that's what concerns the administration.
Paul Gosar: It hasn't occurred. It's contingent on meeting all those things.
Ted Simons: If that's the case, why not do it beforehand?
Paul Gosar: Once again, stewardship for money. The last I looked, the federal government is broke. Instead of the taxpayer paying for the NEPA, it's the industry that's going to pay for the NEPA.
Ted Simons: If that becomes the sticking point, then it sounds like - it sounds like the Forest Services are very encouraged and they are eager to work and saying all of right things. If they are, can you change?
Paul Gosar: Here's the deal, the American taxpayer, do you want to pick this bill up or industry? The rules are the same. You still have to pass the same rules. Does the taxpayer want to pay them or the federal government want to pay them? I'm interested in the industry paying for â€˜em because the American government doesn't have a dime.
Ted Simons: Critics are worried about sacred lands and not so many jobs and the jobs that they may have - not quite as permanent as the damage to the land would be. How do you respond?
Paul Gosar: Well, I think as scare tactics -- and we've seen it over and over again in these regards. We've done block mining in the eastern part of the United States for coal mining. We used robotics to make safety a concern. Those jobs? We want to make sure those jobs are there. With copper being so important to solar, to wind, to new cars and we're importing over 30% of it. And this mine itself could get 25% of it.
Ted Simons: One last criticism is that the copper is good for those things if we knew we were going to do these things in America. There's concerns once the copper is mined, business is business, it could go anywhere and be traded in any place. Does that concern you?
Paul Gosar: It does. And one the things I've looked at, I've one of the originators of understanding our commodities as far as our resources are. And our resources our parts of Arizona and parts of the United States. And I've looked at without violating the constitution, the first right of first refusal and we're looking at uranium aspect. There's a company from Russia that bought the Powder River mining company in western Wyoming, the majority stockholder is the Russian government. One of the things they were worried about was taking our uranium and shipping it overseas. But that needs a secondary permit which isn't normally given. But that's an opportunity for us to start looking at this. We have to make sure we're complying with the constitution, the free marketplaces but not allowing what OPEC has allowed to be done to us, in the past.
Ted Simons: Last question quickly. Sounds like smoother sailing in the house than senate. What are you hearing from the senate?
Paul Gosar: We based the bill what came off the natural resources senate side. That's what we looked at poignantly. And that came out of the senate and that was opportunity and I let the senior senators do the work.
Ted Simons: Thanks for being here.
Paul Gosar: Thank you so much, Ted.
Paul Gosar:U.S. Congressman;