Forest Service Acts to Modernize Bureaucratic NEPA Process
Washington, June 13, 2019 | Western Caucus Press
Members of the Senate and Congressional Western Caucus released statements praising action by the U.S. Forest Service to revise the National Environmental Protection Act.
Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar (AZ-04): "Originally intended as a tool for environmental protection, NEPA has been hijacked by serial litigants and wielded as a means of obstruction. The current NEPA processes is costly, burdensome and uncertain. There is no good reason that the average time to currently complete this bureaucratic process is 687 days. The Forest Service's proposed action is the first agency rule change to NEPA in more than a decade and is welcome news. The new rule will allow for increased active forest management and help prevent catastrophic wildfires."
Senate Western Caucus Chairman Steve Daines (MT): "I applaud the Forest Service for cutting red tape to protect our communities from catastrophic wildfires, expand recreation, and create jobs. Modernizing these burdensome regulations to restore active management is a big win for Montana communities."
Executive Vice Chairman Scott Tipton (CO-03): "NEPA has been an important tool to help protect air and water, but over the years it has increasingly become a component of litigation tactics used to slow down common-sense proactive forest management and other projects. Wildfire risk in Colorado has been exacerbated by insect infestations and disease in national forests. Fallen, dead timber often stands in the way of firefighters trying to do their jobs to keep our communities safe. I thank the Forest Service for their work on developing tools to allow important forest management projects to move forward without compromising important environmental standards."
Vice-Chairman for Indian Affairs and Oceans Don Young (AK-At Large): "When Congress originally drafted and passed NEPA, it was to be a simple, streamlined process. However, it has grown into a bureaucratic and lawsuit-prone monstrosity that has far exceeded its original congressional intent. This proposed action will help the Forest Service cut through burdensome red tape and help to finally reign in NEPA. In recent years, we have watched in horror as wildfires raged in the west, and Alaskans too have experienced similar catastrophes in our forests. This proposal will help save lives and protect property by allowing the Forest Service to better manage forests and prioritize projects requiring in-depth analysis and urgent action. I applaud leadership at the Forest Service for taking this seriously."
Chief Infrastructure and Forestry Officer Bruce Westerman (AR-04): "Streamlining the NEPA process is long overdue, hence why I’ve advocated for sound forestry through legislation like the Resilient Federal Forests Act. I’m thrilled to see the Forest Service taking such bold action to improve forest management. Similarly to my legislation, this Forest Service proposal would give more tools and flexibility when managing federal lands and controlling invasive species, as well as maintain the infrastructure within public lands. In the fight to protect forests against catastrophic wildfires, we should all be on the same team. I’m grateful for the Trump administration’s dedication to sound forest management."
Chief Water and Wildlife Officer Tom McClintock (CA-04): "In the 1970’s, we consigned our forests to a policy of benign neglect by adopting laws that have made the active management of our forests endlessly time consuming and ultimately cost prohibitive. The Forest Service’s proposed revisions to its NEPA regulations are a breath of fresh air. In the Tahoe Basin in my district, we have seen the kind of categorical exclusions that the revisions expand cut hundreds of pages of paperwork, and turn years of delay into projects that could be enacted in months. I applaud the administration building on these proven practices."
Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Republican Rob Bishop (UT-01): "On the eve of a fire season with the potential to be one of the most catastrophic in recent times, this proposal from the USDA is most welcome. The Administration is cutting red tape to save lives and protect the environment. There is great wisdom in reevaluating NEPA. When lives hang in the balance, we must always remember the importance of expediency. At a time when the Forest Service is annually treating just 2 percent of the over 80 million acres of forest land identified as a high risk for catastrophic wildfire, there is a clear need for smarter management and more regulatory flexibility. The Forest Service must be able to respond to wildfire threats as quickly as possible. While I welcome this positive step from the Forest Service, Congress still has an obligation to provide additional tools to combat the national wildfire crisis."
Chief Rules Officer Dan Newhouse (WA-04): "Our national forests deserve our attention. In Central Washington, we continue to face the risk of catastrophic wildfires because of the bureaucratic red tape facing the U.S. Forest Service. We must empower our federal agencies to actively manage and address the conditions of our forests and prevent wildfires that threaten communities. I applaud Secretary Perdue and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for taking this important step to equip the Forest Service with the tools they need to effectively preserve our national lands for future generations."
Chief Defense and Interior Officer Chris Stewart (UT-02): "These changes are critical for Utah, the Forest Service, and our natural resources. This will have a big impact on reducing catastrophic fires which have enormous impact on Utah. It is unavoidably obvious that we need more active management of our forests to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires."
Senator Mike Lee (UT): "The average NEPA evaluation takes almost two whole years to complete. Utahns facing another dangerous fire season don’t have two years to wait for the Forest Service to do the maintenance and infrastructure work necessary to keep them safe. The NEPA reforms announced by the Forest Service today will save lives and protect our forest from devastating wildfires. NEPA has morphed into a complex, burdensome process that acts as a barrier to common-sense land management. While Congress needs to enact further reforms to this outdated process, I commend the Forest Service for taking positive steps to reform its NEPA regulations."
Congressman Ken Calvert (CA-42): "I applaud the steps being taken by the Forest Service to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our forest management. The NEPA process serves an important goal but we must regularly seek out opportunities to fine tune its implementation to properly balance our objectives. I support these steps to enhance active management projects in our forests to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires."
Congressman Russ Fulcher (ID-01): "This much-needed reform to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will allow us to swiftly address areas that have been poorly managed and in danger of catastrophic wildfires. The additional proposal to expand Categorical Exclusions will help lower the amount of time for an environment assessment in areas determined to have minimal environmental impact, which now averages 678 days. Thank you to the USDA and Forest Service for listening to us and improving your policies based on our feedback. This is how government is meant to work."
Congressman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-15): "As the Forest Service continue to address the significant costs of fighting wildfires, our national forests remain undermanaged and overgrown. Active management will help reduce hazardous fuels and support forest communities around the country. I applaud this commonsense proposal, which has the potential to do wonders for forest health. It’s imperative that we provide the Forest Service with the tools it needs to be better stewards of America’s public lands."
Congressman Pete Stauber (MN-08): "This NEPA reform is long overdue; the PolyMet project took 14 years of permitting because environmental litigants took advantage of a broken system. Upcoming projects crucial to our economy will be undergoing the same process and I look forward to a streamlined approach that maintains the highest level of environmental protection."
Congressman Mike Simpson (ID-02): "I applaud the Forest Service and their work to ensure our laws are administered efficiently and effectively. While the intention of environmental laws are sound and necessary, I have seen too many projects that would actually benefit our public lands held up due to the burdensome regulatory process. The same can be said for management projects that would decrease catastrophic wildfires. If we can streamline NEPA in those instances, we can reduce catastrophic wildfires that decimate wildlife habitat, communities, and our air quality. The Forest Service deserves credit for modernizing their rules to fit the problems of the 21 century."
A link to the proposed rule is can be viewed HERE.
In the proposed revisions to NEPA, the Forest Service intends to add or expand existing Categorical Exclusions (CEs). CEs are actions which have been determined to have a minimal environmental impact, and therefore do not require lengthy environmental assessments.
According to the Forest Service, "On average, an environmental assessment takes 687 days to complete. Average time to complete a
The proposed rule will equip the Forest Service with new tools and increased flexibility to take action to address poor forest and rangeland conditions. These revisions to NEPA will save time and taxpayer dollars while allowing the agency to better protect communities and habitats from catastrophic wildfire.
The Forest Service has not updated its NEPA regulations since 2008, since then the Western Caucus has called for modernizing the act to provide clarity and regulatory certainty to communities around the country.
Beginning today, members of the public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed revisions. Additional information about the proposal, how to submit comments on the proposal, and upcoming informational webinars can be found HERE.