Protecting NEPA – The Environmental Magna Carta
The U.S. Forest Service has proposed a rule to overhaul its environmental analysis procedures under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which will dramatically curtail the role the public and science play in land management decisions on 193 million acres of national forest lands across the country. This page is dedicated to making information available to the public about this extremely concerning action.
These changes would create loopholes to increase the pace and scale of resource extraction, including logging and mining, all while limiting the scope of public awareness and input on proposed projects. The Forest Service has proposed several new categorical exclusions that would allow the agency to move project planning behind closed doors by cutting the public out of the decision-making process.
The goal of NEPA is to foster better decisions to protect, restore, and enhance our environment and is based on three key principles: 1) transparency; 2) informed decision making; and 3) giving the public a voice. This is achieved through two key tools: public comment and requiring the Forest Service to “look before it leaps” by preparing a detailed environmental analysis. This analysis provides agency decision makers, the public, and outside experts with relevant information and requires agencies to take a “hard look” at the potential environmental consequences of a proposed project before making a decision and taking action. Other laws provide for administrative review of these decisions, which gives the public another chance to weigh in on decisions affecting national forestlands.
The Forest Service’s proposed rule undermines these basic tenets by increasing the number and scope of “categorical exclusions” – or very cursory review of project effects – for nearly every type of land management action. The proposed rule exempts those decisions from public comment, and only requires public notice; and such categorical exclusions are already exempt from administrative review.
Cutting the public out of public lands management is a recipe for increased controversy and disagreement, and will not lead to efficient implementation of science-based projects on the ground. Unsurprisingly, the rollback faces overwhelming public opposition, with 94 percent of public comments against.