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Editorials from Oregon newspapers

The (Bend) Bulletin, May 12, on cuts in the U.S. government's 2014 wildfire budget

The best time to fight a wildfire is before it starts. Reducing fuels reduces fires. There's less threat to the public, firefighters, trees, wildlife and property.

So why is the U.S. government planning to spend less on reducing fuels for wildfire?

The 2014 budget reduces funding for what's called the Hazardous Fuels Reduction program to $95.9 million. That's a cut of $88.9 million from the pre-sequester level in 2012.

The Interior Department even tried to put some positive spin on the cut, as U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., pointed out at a subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

"The 2014 program presents an opportunity to re-evaluate and recalibrate the focus of HFR (hazardous fuels reduction) to align and support the direction in the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy and the Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy," a department budget document says.

The Interior Department can do all the re-evaluating and recalibrating it wants. It is not going to make up for cutting the budget for fuels reduction nearly in half.

Sally Jewell, the new secretary of the Interior, responded to Merkley.

"We had to make some hard choices," she said.

Let's look at some of the hard choices.

First of all, the Interior Department's budget for 2014 is $11.9 billion. That's an increase of some $486 million over 2012.

So that means — even with more money — the department is slashing hazardous fuels reduction to pay for something else.

One of the hard choices the department made is to spend more on sage grouse protection. The department is increasing it by $15 million to prevent the sage grouse from becoming an endangered species.

Perhaps the department should add sprinkler systems near sage grouse nests so they don't broil in wildfires.

The department is also increasing by $2.8 million a program called the Youth in the Great Outdoors Initiative. That's pretty much what it sounds like. It gets kids out in the woods. If the woods aren't on fire, one of the lessons could be about how re-evaluating and recalibrating makes up for a 48 percent cut in funding for fuels reduction.

The Interior Department is also one of the federal agencies that takes in more money than it spends. It's expected to get $14 billion in receipts in 2014 or about $2 billion more than it will spend. Rather than shift that "profit," why not keep fuels reduction at least at 2012 levels?

If there is another wildfire in Oregon the size of Rhode Island as there was last year, give thanks to the hard choice to spend less on preventing fires and more on fighting them.

The (Eugene) Register-Guard, May 13, on greenhouse gases

There is nothing magical about last week's measurement of 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere. It's just a symbolic marker, albeit a sobering one, that should remind mankind of how swiftly levels of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas have increased — and continue to rise.

It's also a wake-up call for Americans and their elected officials to take aggressive action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and to support clean energy technology before it's too late for future generations.

For perspective, consider that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were at 316 parts per million when measurements began about five decades ago. Before the industrial revolution, the carbon levels were believed to be 280 parts per million. The last time the worldwide carbon level was probably this high was 2 million years ago during the Pleistocene Era when temperatures were far warmer and sea levels much higher than they are now.

While the carbon level merits attention, it's the pace of the change that most concerns scientists. Levels are now growing about 2 parts per million per year — 100 times faster than at the end of the Ice Age. Barring an unlikely global rejection of fossil fuels, carbon emissions will continue to grow at an alarming rate.

The United Nations has set an official target of stopping emissions from rising above 450 parts per million. But at the current rate, that mark could be in the rear view mirror in less than 25 years. Granted, there is still uncertainty about how the climate system will react to a specific increase in carbon dioxide concentrations, but it should be obvious to all but the most bullheaded of climate-science deniers that it's time to stop ignoring the risk of continuing to pump huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Four years ago, President Obama described climate change as one of this country's — and mankind's — most urgent challenges, and he vowed to pass a cap-and-trade bill limiting greenhouse gas emissions. That promise went unfilled in his first term, and there was dismayingly little talk about climate change in the 2012 election.

As long as Republicans control the House of Representatives, a cap and trade bill or a direct carbon tax remain impossible. But there is still much that Obama can do to curb this country's carbon emissions. That includes giving the Environmental Protection Agency the green light to exercise its Supreme Court-affirmed authority to limit emissions from stationary sources such as power plants. The agency already has laid the groundwork by establishing emission standards for new power plants that should preclude the construction of new coal-burning facilities.

The president should also refuse to grant the permit for building the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and grant Oregon's request for a comprehensive federal review of proposals that would dramatically increase this country's coal export capacity by turning Northwest ports into major shippers of U.S. coal to Asian countries.

The clock is ticking, and carbon levels are continuing to rise.

The Medford Mail-Tribune, May 12, on a proposed Coquille tribe casino in Medford

The Coquille Indian Tribe's proposal to establish a gambling casino in Medford has drawn strong opposition from Gov. John Kitzhaber and from the Jackson County commissioners and concern — but not yet formal opposition — from the Medford City Council. Count us among the doubters that a Class II casino would benefit the local community in any substantial way.

The Coquilles, who operate The Mill Casino in North Bend, have purchased the Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and the former Kim's Restaurant and leased the adjacent Bear Creek Golf Course. The tribe has asked the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to place 2.42 acres of the property into a government trust — the first step toward gaining reservation status for the land.

The Coquilles propose a Class II casino in the bowling alley building. Games would consist of 600 gambling machines, but not blackjack, craps or other table games found in full-service Class III casinos such as The Mill and Seven Feathers, operated by the Cow Creek tribe in Canyonville.

Tribal officials stress the economic development the project would bring to the area, creating what they say would be more than 200 family-wage jobs. But not all "economic development" is equally beneficial or desirable.

For starters, the "casino" would be little more than a glorified bingo hall. In fact, the technology used by the machines consists of a computer chip generating random numbers based on bingo to determine winners and losers.

If the tribe were proposing a full-blown Nevada-style casino such as Seven Feathers, with a luxury resort hotel, fine dining and entertainment and table games in addition to slot machines, it might add to the valley's already thriving tourism industry. A Class II operation, is likely to have little positive effect.

A study by Coopers and Lybrand of the potential economic impact of casino gambling in Ontario, Canada, concluded that attracting gamblers and their dollars from outside the area would be a benefit. Gamblers staying overnight in Atlantic City, for instance, spent more money on lodging, food and other expenses than they lost in the casino.

"The economic function of casinos becomes a more dubious proposition," the authors continued, "when the primary market is the local population. In such cases the transfer of income and assets benefits the local casino at the expense of local residents."

It seems likely that a Class II casino would attract primarily local residents, and many of the jobs it would create would replace jobs lost at other local gambling establishments — Oregon Lottery retailers — without a net benefit to the local employment rate. In addition, dollars spent gambling on Oregon Lottery machines support state services such as schools, economic development — there's that word again — and salmon habitat restoration. Dollars spent in a tribal casino would benefit the tribe.

The Coquilles may succeed in gaining reservation status for their casino venture despite local opposition. That might be a good thing for the tribe, but it is unlikely to be a good thing for Medford and the Rogue Valley.

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