What is NEPA and how is it under threat?
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was one of the first laws to establish a national framework aimed at protecting our environment. It was created to assure that government agencies give proper consideration to the environment before they take any action that would affect the environment.
While NEPA doesn’t always prevent even the most environmentally damaging activities from occurring, it does require an agency proposing an activity to fully analyze and disclose all potential impacts, propose mitigation measures to reduce impacts and analyze their potential effectiveness, and allow for public participation in the process. Each agency has its own method and procedures to ensure compliance with this Act.
The Forest Service has proposed a major revision of its current NEPA procedures. The proposed rule seeks to provide agency decision-makers with methods to dodge disclosing environmental impacts, to make decisions without the benefit of scientific input, and to cut the public from the decision making process!
The Forest Service has cited budget shortfalls as the reason for this change, but we feel that money is not a reason to weaken this vitally important environmental law. We believe that any changes to our public lands should analyze environmental impacts and be subject to a transparent public comment process.
If these proposed rules get finalized lynx habitat will be destroyed, approving a road to the Village at Wolf Creek development parcel may not entail the in-depth analysis necessary to protect this critical wildlife movement corridor, and many harmful projects could move forward without RMW or the public’s knowledge. It’s clear these rules are aimed at fast-tracking industrial and recreational interests over the protection of the environment.
How to Submit Your Comments:
You may comment on the proposed rule through any of the three methods listed below. Please feel free to use our draft talking points and our specific provisions of concern resources below to formulate your comments. Comments must be submitted no later than August 12. Submit your comments:
- Via the online public participation portal: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FS-2019-0010-0001
- Via email: email@example.com
- Via snail mail:
- NEPA Services Group, c/o Amy Barker
USDA Forest Service
125 South State St, Suite 1705
Salt Lake City, UT 84138
- NEPA Services Group, c/o Amy Barker
Draft Talking Points for Comments:
Below are some talking points you can use to submit your comments. Use some or all as you see fit, but be sure to put them in your own words. Copying and pasting these talking points could result in your comments not being read and counted as individual comments. For more information about submitting comments that stick, check out our checklist (en Español).
- The proposed rule would circumvent public comment periods on some decisions and activities on National Forest land, contrary to NEPA’s clear direction to involve the public decisions impacting our public lands.
- The proposed rule would allow public notice through the Schedule of Proposed Action, reducing the transparency and awareness of public comment periods.
- Large areas could be logged or burned without consideration for the possible environmental impacts and in some cases, without the opportunity for public input.
- Illegally formed roads and trails could easily be legitimized, which would encourage illegal road and trail construction and result in fragmentation of wildlife habitat and corridors.
- Many miles of new roads could be constructed and existing roads reconstructed with no analysis of impacts to wildlife and habitat.
- A comprehensive analysis of environmental impacts to our public lands and ways to reduce them will be needed more than ever in the face of a changing climate, increasingly heavy recreation use, and the increasing importance of National Forests for wildlife habitat, clean water, and more.
Specific Provisions of Concern:
Expanded use of categorical exclusions – NEPA allows projects to be “categorically excluded” (CE) from documentation in an environmental impact statement (EIS) or environmental analysis (EA). Currently, all Forest Service proposals must give the public an opportunity to comment at an early stage in the process. CEs are currently used only for projects that can reliably be said to have only minimal environmental impacts (such as a renewal of a minor special use permit with no changes). The proposed rule change would expand the use of CEs to include:
- “…activities to improve ecosystem health, resilience, and other watershed conditions” up to 7,300 acres (11.4 square miles) of land, 4,200 acres (6.6 square miles) of which could be commercial timber harvest. This overrides the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills that limit acreage that can be treated under a CE to 3,000 acres.
- Unlimited mileages of illegally created roads and trails could be converted to system roads and trails, respectively. This would provide incentives for visitors to illegally create roads and trails! This has already happened with bike trails on the Routt National Forest near Steamboat Springs.
- Five miles of new road could be constructed and up to 10 miles of road could be reconstructed. Opening an area to motor vehicle use with a new road could have considerable impacts on wildlife habitat effectiveness, water quality, and quiet recreation opportunity.
Use of “determination of NEPA adequacy” (DNA) – The proposed rule would allow the Forest Service to determine if previous NEPA documentation is sufficient for a proposed project. Previous NEPA documents are unlikely to be sufficient to disclose the impacts of a proposed project – it will not cover the same area or type of action. Under the proposed rule, it’s unclear if the public would have opportunities to comment on the proposed DNA.
Projects with major impact to roadless areas would no longer require an EIS – Under the current rule “proposals that would substantially alter the undeveloped character of an inventoried roadless area or a potential wilderness area” would require an EIS. This requirement has been removed from the proposed rule, making it easier for the Forest Service to approve projects with significant impacts on a roadless area or potential wilderness area with less analysis of impacts and ways to mitigate them.