The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance has voiced strong opposition to a U.S. Forest Service proposed rule that would effectively eliminate the opportunity for the public to provide comments on many projects proposed within the National Forests. The proposed rule, published in June, would amend agency procedures governing how environmental analyses are conducted for projects on Forest Service land in compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
When projects, such as a natural gas pipeline or a tree harvesting project are proposed, the agency decides whether it is appropriate to conduct an Environmental Assessment or prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, the latter being a more comprehensive analysis of the project’s potential impacts. In either case, there is an opportunity for public comment. Under the Forest Service’s NEPA procedures some projects, designated as so-called “categorical exclusions,” are exempted from the public comment process. The rule that has been proposed would significantly expand the types of projects designated as “categorical exclusions,” thus eliminating the requirement for public input.
In its August 21 comments filed with the Forest Service, ABRA said:
The proposed rule, by expanding the use of “categorical exclusions,” would eliminate the public comment process for many proposed uses of the national forests. Essentially, the Forest Service is saying to citizens with an interest in a proposed Forest project that the agency will decide whether their opinion is worth listening to. This proposed “don’t call us, we’ll call you” approach to future NEPA analyses represents a bureaucratic conceit that is contrary to the partnership with the public that the Forest Service has admirably practiced in the past.
The Forest Service should be encouraging increased public involvement, not blocking it as these proposed changes would do.
In an op-ed in the August 8 New York Times entitled “Why is the Forest Service Trying to Evade the Public?”, Sam Evans of the Southern Environmental Law Center argued:
By eliminating the opportunity for public comment, the Forest Service is abandoning the chance to get meaningful advice for free. In the short run, the proposal will be bad for forest users, bad for wildlife and bad for local economies that depend on recreation. In the long run, it will hurt timber economies too. If the Forest Service abandons the process that makes this possible, it will undermine the cooperation that allows us to share our public lands.
ABRA Update readers are urged to submit comments about this wrong-headed proposal by clicking on OurForestsOurVoice.org. The process is simple and straightforward. Be sure to act by Monday, August 26. 2019, the comment deadline for the proposed rule.