The Forest Service wants to exempt logging industry from environmental review on projects smaller than 4200 acres
The U.S. Forest Service is proposing to gut a federal law that requires extensive environmental review before new logging, mining or road building projects are approved on the 200 million acres of public land it is charged with protecting.
The agency, headed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wants to exempt logging projects smaller than 4200 acres, mining projects less than a square mile and road building projects less than 5 miles from environmental impact studies, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The proposed changes are being touted as an effort to protect the public from wildfires and to speed up road, trail and campground repairs.
But environmentalists warn the agency is creating loopholes that could allow the logging and mining industries backdoor access to public lands without the historically required environmental review and public comment period.
“We are committed to doing the work to protect people and infrastructure from catastrophic wildfire. With millions of acres in need of treatment, years of costly analysis and delays are not an acceptable solution,” said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue in a press release.
The proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, which has been around since the 1970s, would also exempt larger logging, mining and road building projects from environmental impact studies if their proponents can find a previous analysis of a similar type of project.
“These are not minor tweaks. This is major,” said Susan Brown, a lawyer with the Western Environment Law Center. “This proposed rule would hide a lot from the public.”
Environmental groups quickly spotted a loophole in the proposed law that would allow commercial loggers to clear-cut up to 4,200 acres without any public involvement.
“It’s huge even in a western forest, and it’s just unthinkable in an eastern forest,” Sam Evans of the Southern Environmental Law Center told CNN.
The proposal would also allow the forest service to build five miles of new roads through woodlands without a mandatory NEPA review.
“That’s a lot of road,” Ted Zukoski, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Washington Post. “Roads are some of the most destructive things you can build through forests.”