This week, we recognize the 100th anniversary of the Weeks Act, a law most Americans are not familiar with, but depend upon greatly. The National Forests we count on for clean water and enjoy for recreational use would not exist today but for this bill. Passed on March 1, 1911, the Weeks Act authorized the federal government to purchase cleared forestlands to preserve the flow of waterways and restore lands for future timber production.
Largely owing to the Weeks Act, the U.S. is home to 52 National Forests encompassing almost 25 million acres of land and waterways. In addition to protecting municipal water supplies, National Forest watersheds account for $450 billion in food and fiber, manufactured goods, and tourism.
Given the current political climate, it is hard to imagine a time when legislation enjoyed the bipartisan support we saw for the Weeks Act. Republicans and Democrats once jointly recognized the importance of the federal government in preserving our forests and water supply.
Unfortunately, in a misguided effort to balance the budget, the Republican leadership is slashing programs that help to ensure our water is drinkable, our air is breathable, and our public lands will be preserved for our children and grandchildren.
Both sides of the political spectrum agree that the United States has an enormous budget deficit that we need to control. Large and unfunded Bush tax cuts took this country off the path of fiscal sustainability. U.S. tax revenue for 2010 will be at a historically low level of 15 percent of our GDP. A midpoint of 20 percent has proven to generate the strongest periods of growth in the private sector since WWII.
Instead of addressing the causes behind our high deficit, the Republican leadership has focused its attention on the nondefense, non-security portion of the federal budget, a section amounting to just 12 percent. Sharp cuts to 12 percent of our total budget will do little to reduce our deficit, but does much to reduce the health of our environment.
Singled out for elimination are successful conservation programs like the North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s State and Wildlife grants, long supported by both Democrats and Republicans.
In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) drinking and waste water programs are cut by almost $2 billion. Further, the Continuing Resolution, H.R. 1 passed in the House, contains amendments blocking the EPA from fulfilling mandates set by the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.
Reducing our deficit will require substantial yet thoughtful spending cuts accompanied by a return to the tax rates of the 1990s – not a slash-and-burn approach to budgeting. I hope that the protection of our waterways, forests, and lands will again take precedent over politics as it was 100 years ago this week with passage of the Weeks Act.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.