SPEARFISH — Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. made a whirlwind tour through Western South Dakota Wednesday visiting with fire officials in Rapid City, and then community leaders in Sturgis, Spearfish, and Belle Fourche, along with touring COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Spearfish and Sturgis.
He sat down with the Pioneer to discuss issues that impact the Northern Black Hills.
Pioneer: For the past 10 years, timber sales in the Black Hills National Forest, have ranged in the high 100,000s of CCF each year. In the recent Forest Service report, it calls for timber sales to be between 72,000 and 90,000 CCF. (1 CCF is equal to 100 cubic feet) Is that feasible for a mill to operate under that small of a quota?
Thune: “It sure wouldn’t seem like it. And that’s a concern that he (Jim Neiman, the owner of local sawmills) has. Not just with respect to Hill City, but to the other mills too. … You have to have supply to keep a business like that going. That’s a totally unrealistic number, and we’ve conveyed that to the Forest Service. Maybe we don’t get up to the level you were talking about there, but they’ve got to modify that.”
Pioneer: Was the Forest Service receptive?
Thune: “With the previous administration, they got it, and we had an open ear to the arguments we were making. I think it’s going to be more challenging with this administration, because I think they have a different view to the world when it comes to natural resources and the environment. They are under a lot of pressure from extreme environmental groups to ratchet down and have a naturalist approach where you just let it burn and not to have a plan to manage the forest. We’re going to have to work doubly hard to pressure them. The fire season is ahead of us yet, and if you find out that these fuel loads are contributing, and I think you can argue that already, as we look and anticipate what is ahead for the potential for fire risk and fire hazard. That is why we need to have a management plan for harvest. We need to have a healthy forest. A healthy forest means you can’t have all these fuel loads lying on the ground. Once they ignite, they get hot, they burn fast, and get dangerous.”
Pioneer: Timber sales in the last two years of the Trump administration were much lower than the previous decade, while the last two years of the Obama administration, timber sales were on par with the 10-year average. Is the Biden administration different from the Obama administration environmentally?
Thune: “I think they are. Obama is probably going to look like a raging moderate compared to the influences that are affecting the Biden administration. And I’m not talking about the president himself. But I think the politics of the democrat side of the isle are markedly left since Obama. I call it the tail wagging the dog. … I hope there are some moderate folks in the Forest Service that understand that you have to strike a balance.”
Pioneer: What do you say to people who are hesitant to get the vaccine or to those who blow of the seriousness of the virus?
Thune: “I know there is some hesitancy out there, but what I would tell people is that the data, the science, the research of the vaccine, the efficacy of it is being proven every day by the people who get the vaccine.
I got the second shot, I actually reacted to the second shot and got a lot of the symptoms. But if we want to get back to normal, if we want to get this thing in the rearview mirror, getting as many people vaccinated as possible is the way to do that. It is a game changer. Once you get the vaccine you have a lot more confidence to resume normal activities.
It is the most surefire way of defeating the virus.”
Biden infrastructure plan
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Pioneer: President Biden released his infrastructure plan this morning. Have you had a chance to look at it?
Thune: “He just released it this morning, and I haven’t had a chance to look into it. But like I said (in the earlier meeting) it needs to be focused and targeted and not just throwing money out there. I think there is bi-partisan support out there for infrastructure, there has been historically, for a more reasonable package. If you look at funding the current highway bill, you could replenish the Highway Trust Fund, you could do that for about $300 billion. You could do a significant part of the broadband component for more than that. There are a lot of things you can do that don’t include a lot of the ambitious things that the Biden administration has in it that really addresses infrastructure.”
Pioneer: The Keystone XL permit was canceled immediately upon Biden taking office. This was after Trump approved the permit, and after Obama declined to approve the permit. How is a nation, our neighbors to the north for example, or any nation for that matter, expected to make a deal with the United States if the next administration is going to reverse the policy of the previous one?
Thune: “Good question. The Keystone pipeline has gone through multiple environmental assessments, and in every case has concluded that it is safer than shipping fluids on rail or truck or any other way. It’s been proven to be environmentally sound. The technology that they use. They talk a lot on the impact to water. They go under the (Missouri) River for example. The safeguards they have in place now, it is the safest, most efficient way to move oil. I am a big fan of renewables. I am, with maybe the exception of Sen. Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa) the biggest supporter of renewable energy in Congress. But we aren’t going to meet our energy needs solely on renewable energy, at least for the foreseeable future. We have to have these traditional energy sources. And that means we have to have a way to get them to where they are needed.
I think it was a huge mistake for the president, not only for the jobs and the economic impact it has. I look at my hometown, Murdo, it runs right through the county. The school district was excited about it because it meant hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the school district alive. The rural electric company was going to provide power for it. They not only created some construction jobs, but some permanent jobs, which we desperately need in places like that. On a lot of levels, to me, it makes sense. I’m disappointed that on Day 1, that is going to be the first thing he was going to do.”
Pioneer: Plan on seeking re-election?
Thune: “We’ll make a decision on that later this year. Right now I am focused on doing my job. In the past, I’ve figured that if you do your job well, the politics take care if themself. I think elections are too long, cost too much, and wear people out. Then everything that happens starts to be viewed through a political prism. Rather, I’m going keep focus on the work, and we’ll get to that announcement later in the year.”
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