The Trump Administration is trying to do through regulation what it can’t through Congress: gut the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Forest Service has initiated a rulemaking process to create huge loopholes in the federal law, killing public participation in federal land management and eviscerating science-based standards. In EPIC’s 40+ years, this is the most extreme proposal to come across our desk. Yet, because it is being done quietly, these changes are sneaking through without public attention and outrage. On behalf of EPIC and all of the other public interest environmental groups who use the law daily, WE NEED YOUR HELP!
To fully grasp the magnitude of what is being proposed, it is necessary to give a brief explainer of NEPA. NEPA is the law that requires government agencies to examine the environmental impact of all their projects. This environmental review not only flags potential environmental issues through a science-based process, but it also gives the public an opportunity to comment on a project. Some federal projects are largely exempt from these rules—“categorically excluded” in the mumbo-jumbo of the law—because they are not expected to result in meaningful environmental impacts. The Forest Service is attempting to widen what is categorically excluded so that very impactful projects would skate by without public participation or science-based review. (Read more about how NEPA protects the environment here.)
Just how radical is this? For example, the proposed rule would exempt commercial logging on public lands that are 4,200 acres—or 6.5 square miles—or smaller from NEPA review. The current rule only allows timber sales 70 acres or smaller. This gives the greenlight for massive new clearcuts to pockmark our public lands, all without public say or science-based review.
EPIC typically comments on over 35 Forest Service projects per year through NEPA. Under the proposed rule, nearly all of these could be categorically excluded. No public participation. No science. Just closed-door deals.