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Conservationists Object to Forest Service Rule Change

The proposal would allow federal agency approval of logging on up to 7,300 acres of national forest land at a time with no requirement for public comment. (Zack Frank/Adobe Stock)
The proposal would allow federal agency approval of logging on up to 7,300 acres of national forest land at a time with no requirement for public comment. (Zack Frank/Adobe Stock)
August 27, 2019

NEW YORK — Conservation groups say proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act would cut off the public's right to comment on more than 90% of decisions affecting national forests and grasslands.

The groups filed their objections to the proposal with the U.S. Forest Service on Monday.

According to Olivia Glasscock, associate attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice, part of the proposal broadens so-called categorical exclusions, usually reserved for projects like hiking trail restoration, to include projects that could threaten the environment.

"Projects that would allow oil and gas activity, logging and mining interests to move forward without the public ever having a chance to comment on how those projects would affect them,” Glasscock said.

The Forest Service says the changes are needed to speed up projects. But conservationists argue public input and transparent analysis are more efficient for decision making.

Glasscock pointed out that a primary purpose of the National Environmental Policy Act is to give the public an opportunity to provide input on government decision making.

"So that the government is held accountable; so that we know the government is making informed decisions,” she said. “And this proposed rule would shut the public out of decisions affecting our national forests and grasslands."

Monday was the final day for public comments. The conservation groups say if the Forest Service goes through with the changes, the agency will be challenged in court.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY