Congress Considers Bill to Streamline Forest Service Projects

As reported in Environment and Energy Daily (June 1, 2015 by Phil Taylor), Congress is considering a bill to streamline NEPA review of Forest Service projects and impede legal challenges to such projects.  The bill includes a legislative categorical exclusion from NEPA for certain Forest Service activities.  In addition, it would require groups that sue to block certain projects to post a bond to cover the government's anticipated legal costs, which the groups would forfeit if they are not successful.

The difficulty with such streamlining is that it facilitates both legitimate wildfire risk reduction projects and illegitimate agency boondoggles.  Thus, the Forest Service is relying on an existing categorical exclusion to justify its Upper Echo Lake Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project.  That project is unnecessary to reduce the threat of wildfire and therefore fiscally imprudent, and it is also environmentally destructive.

In any challenge to a Forest Service project, the odds are already stacked in favor of the agency for a host of reasons.  For example, the Forest Service has unlimited, free legal services at its disposal in the form of the U.S. Department of Justice to defend its actions, even when they are patently illegal.  And Forest Service actions will typically be upheld in all cases except where they are arbitrary or capricious.

The proposal to require challengers to Forest Service projects to post a bond threatens to remove an existing check on potential agency misconduct.  Such checks are a critical component of our successful political system.

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