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Showing posts from 2016

Context for Forest Service Action

Image
This image provides wonderful context to assess the Forest Service's ill-conceived Upper Echo Lake Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project.

Notice how sparse the vegetation is at this elevation.  Certainly when one thinks about wildfire risk, this is not the image the mind conjures.

Relief at Upper Echo Lake Overshadowed by Prescribed Burns Elsewhere in the Region

On the heels of a settlement agreement that signals the end of the Forest Service's plans to cut, pile, and burn vegetation around Upper Echo Lake south of Lake Tahoe, there are grim reminders of continuing agency mismanagement of forestry resources in the vicinity.

First, prescribed burns in the El Dorado and Lake Tahoe National Forests contributed to poor air quality in the region, as reported here.  This led regulators to encourage Washoe County residents to stay indoors.

Second, according to reporter Jason Hidalgo, the Little Valley Fire, which has destroyed dozens of homes and other buildings in Washoe Valley, may have been caused by prescribed burns in the area.

Federal and state forestry agencies are staunch advocates for prescribed burns.  We wonder if there is empirical research to support their position.  At least one expert thinks otherwise as reported some time ago on the NEPA Lab blog.  Robert E. Keane in his book Wildland Fuel Fundamentals and Application (Springer 2…

Final Settlement Agreement Executed in Challenge to Upper Echo Lake Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California issued a stipulated order after the Forest Service and Dr. Dennis Murphy filed a settlement agreement with the Court.  This marks the culmination of a number of years of effort to halt a misguided project.  We are indebted to those who supported the effort to protect the Echo Lakes.

FOIA Reform: Will It Improve Agency Transparency and Responsiveness

This summer, Congress and the President enacted the FOIA Improvement Act.  The language of the Act is available here.  One article describing the Act by Josh Gerstein of Politico is here.  The Act includes a provision to amend the existing law creating a presumption of disclosure.

While the Act has symbolic value, the federal agencies so routinely violated FOIA prior to passage of the FOIA Improvement Act that it remains to be seen whether transparency and responsiveness will improve.

Murphy and Forest Service Settle FOIA Lawsuit

Dennis Murphy and the United States Forest Service settled (pdf) their outstanding FOIA lawsuit with the agency agreeing to provide a response to Murphy's FOIA appeal and to pay Murphy $4500 in costs and fees.  The Forest Service since responded to the FOIA appeal releasing over 75 pages of records in their entirety that were previously redacted in whole or in part by the agency.  At the same time, the agency has redacted 261 pages in whole or in part, continuing to withhold information that could be released on guidelines set out by President Obama and Attorney General Holder.  The full FOIA response is here (pdf).

Case covered on NEPA Lab +

The recent decision of the federal district court in Sacramento to deny the Forest Service's motion to dismiss a challenge to the Upper Echo Lake Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project as moot was covered on the blog, NEPA Lab +.  It builds on past precedent that the federal government is likely to find problematic, barring agencies from skirting NEPA then declaring projects complete and seeking to moot potential challenges.  For the public, the precedent is an important victory.

Court Denies Forest Service's Second Motion to Dismiss

By order dated February 1, 2016, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California has denied a second effort by the Forest Service to dismiss the case filed by Dr. Dennis Murphy challenging the legality of the Upper Echo Lake Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project.


The agency sought to dismiss the case as moot after issuing a two-sentence memo withdrawing the Project authorization.  We reported the motion here.  But the Forest Service never conducted adequate environmental review of the Project under the National Environmental Policy Act, and the partially implemented Project has actually increased local fire risk while also causing unanalyzed environmental degradation.

FOIA Reform: Right Idea, Wrong Time?

This week the U.S. House of Representatives passed the "FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2015 (pdf)," a FOIA reform bill.  Last year both Houses passed FOIA reform bills, but the federal bureaucracy monkey-wrenched reform efforts.

Reporter Ken Bogardus stated in E&E Daily (House approves FOIA reform bill, Jan. 12, 2016), "Though popular on Capitol Hill, FOIA reform often stalls out before becoming law after it runs into opposition from agency officials."

President Obama and Attorney General Holder made strong written commitments (pdf) to open government and in favor of disclosure of information under FOIA early in the current Administration, but numerous executive departments apparently are failing to respond to FOIA requests and/or improperly withholding government records.

There is no question that the government is routinely violating FOIA and that FOIA reform is a worthy idea, but it is an open question whether a policy window will open in 2016 for …

Murphy Files Civil Action Against Forest Service for FOIA Violations

Dennis Murphy filed a complaint (pdf) in federal district court today in response to the Forest Service's continuing disregard for its obligations under FOIA. Blog posts explaining the agency's illegal conduct can be found here and here.

In addition to its violations of FOIA, the agency is also violating the Information Quality Act and its own guidelines for implementation of that Act by failing to respond to a request for correction filed by Dr. Murphy in July 2015. We describe the request here.