The Forest Service is Proposing Changes to NEPA: Please Sign Our Action Alert to Ask Them to Stop!
Signed into law January 1, 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was the first major environmental law in the United States and is often referred to as the “Magna Carta” of environmental laws. While it created the Council on Environmental Quality, NEPA is most well-known for requiring the federal government to analyze the environmental impact of its decisions. Which decisions you ask?
NEPA requires that actions by “all agencies of the Federal Government” which are deemed to be “major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment” must be accompanied by “a detailed statement by the responsible official on the environmental impact of the proposed action.” By requiring this environmental review process, agencies like the National Forest Service must “…use all practicable means, consistent with other essential considerations of national policy’ to avoid environmental degradation, preserve ‘historic, cultural and natural’ resources and promote ‘the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without…undesirable and unintended consequences.”
Whether through an Environmental Assessment (EA), or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the review process provides an opportunity for the public to weigh in on Federal decision making and offer thoughts on agency analysis as well as to propose alternatives to chosen actions. These public comment periods are critical to the work we do at the American Alpine Club, alongside the members of the Outdoor Alliance, on such important public land management issues as Forest Plan Revisions or Forest Service Projects.
Currently, the U.S. Forest Service is considering sweeping changes to how it implements NEPA that would drastically limit public engagement on up to 93% of USFS projects, allowing actions like logging and road building to proceed without environmental review or public comment. This would be accomplished by the addition of several new Categorical Exclusions (CE’s), which require limited environmental analysis and public involvement. If a project is granted a CE, extended amount of environmental review, either through and EA or more extensive EIS, is not required. For climbers these changes would be detrimental considering that, according to the Access Fund, there are over 10,000 climbing areas located on USFS lands across the country. These proposed changes could cut the climbing community out of the planning process and a risk degradation to our cherished climbing environment.
Supporters of this “fast-tracking” of agency actions claim the Forest Service is simply increasing the efficiency of its review process. While there may be legitimate reasons to increase the efficiency of agency reviews, they should not come at the cost of public involvement or at the quality of our clean air and water, wildlife habitat, and recreation access on federal lands.
The Forest Service is accepting public comments on this proposed rule change until this coming Monday, August 26th. At the AAC, we want our public land managers to provide proper opportunities for public comment and the evaluation of agency impacts to the environment. The proposed changes by the Forest Service do not provide the necessary transparency, community engagement or agency accountability that we expect of our land managers.
Please take a moment to let the US Forest Service know that you disagree with their changes to NEPA.