A coalition of environmental groups is suing the U.S. Forest Service over a rule that weakens environmental analysis of many of its plans and excludes a number of actions from scientific review or community input.
The rule, finalized in November, allows the service to use a number of exemptions to sidestep requirements of the bedrock National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), something critics say will speed approval of logging, roads and pipelines on Forest Service land.
“In short, the Forest Service’s rule allows more commercial exploitation with less public accountability, and that’s a terrible shift in balance,” Sam Evans, leader of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s (SELC) national forests and parks program said in a release.
“National forests, and especially those in the Southern Appalachians, are resources for everybody. But the Trump administration wants to give logging lobbyists louder voices than the rest of us.”
The Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The SELC is filing the suit on behalf of nine environmental groups, who argue the service is sidestepping analysis it needs to make informed decisions about how to respond to fire damage or ensure runoff from roads won’t hurt its forests.
The rule expands the types of projects that could qualify for a “categorical exclusion” from a more thorough environmental review.
The suit alleges the Forest Service violated the Administrative Procedures Act in developing the rule, but it also argues the policy violates NEPA itself, which requires a robust review of projects environmental impacts.
The White House, however, has also rolled back NEPA, limiting the scope of environmental analysis required under the law. That rule is also being litigated.