Forest Service Announces Final NEPA Rule

The U.S. Forest Service released their final rule to modernize processes for how the agency complies with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA requires agencies to analyze the environmental impact of proposed actions prior to to making decisions which would impact the environment. 

In these revisions to NEPA, the Forest Service intends to add or expand existing Categorical Exclusions (CEs). CEs are actions which have been determined to have a minimal environmental impact, and therefore do not require lengthy environmental assessments.

According to the Forest Service, “On average, an environmental assessment takes 687 days to complete. Average time to complete a CE takes just 206 days.”

The proposed rule will equip the Forest Service with new tools and increased flexibility to take action to address poor forest and rangeland conditions. These revisions to NEPA will save time and taxpayer dollars while allowing the agency to better protect communities and habitats from catastrophic wildfire.

The Forest Service has not updated its NEPA regulations since 2008, since then the Western Caucus has called for modernizing the act to provide clarity and regulatory certainty to communities around the country.

Members of the Western Caucus released the following statements after the U.S. Forest Service announced their final rule to reform their National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementation regulations:

“The final rule announced today by the Forest Service is a giant leap forward in protecting communities from catastrophic wildfire. The current NEPA process has become too cumbersome and a barrier to forest management projects that protect our forests and save lives, this rule changes that.  This rule uses good science and applies that science across the agency to cut down on permitting delays, frivolous lawsuits, and granting Forest Service greater flexibility.  There is no question this rule will make our forests healthier, as well as our communities and firefighters safer. I commend the work of Chief Christiansen and Secretary Perdue to make this important reform possible,” said Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar (AZ-04).

“We absolutely need environmental regulations in place, but not to the point where we’ve hamstrung government agencies and prevented them from doing critical forest management. This final rule to modernize NEPA is welcome news. After another year of devastating wildfires in the U.S., we need to equip the Forest Service with the tools to protect communities and wildlife habitats without burdensome NEPA regulations wasting valuable time. My Resilient Federal Forests legislation has argued for sensible categorical exclusions for three congresses now with bipartisan support, so I’m glad to see the administration’s leadership on this issue,” said Vice Chairman for Infrastructure and Forestry Bruce Westerman (AR-04). 

“The final NEPA revisions announced by the Trump Administration will dramatically reduce processing timeframes, and provide both enhanced flexibility and the necessary tools to address poor forest and rangeland conditions that have led to catastrophic wildfires like the Mullen Fire in southeastern Wyoming. I’m proud to support this long-overdue effort to modernize NEPA that will save lives and protect communities across the country,” said Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (WY-AL).

“This final rule by the Forest Service takes a step toward advancing its mission of responsible land stewardship while ensuring important management projects continue to move forward. In the wake of yet another devastating wildfire season across the West, we must further empower the Forest Service to pursue categorical exclusions like those in this rule in order to more actively maintain and prevent these disasters from destroying our communities. This action will help us accomplish that goal,” said Vice Chairman for the Department of Energy and Interior Dan Newhouse (WA-04).

“I applaud the Forest Service’s efforts in reforming the broken National Environmental Policy Act. This is another example of how the Trump administration is making life easier for Americans by streamlining unnecessary and costly regulations. These rule changes maintain public transparency and better fulfill the needs of western states,” said Vice Chairman for Regulatory Reform Andy Biggs (AZ-05). 

“After a historic fire season in California, we’ve seen first-hand how unhealthy and overcrowded forests can be catastrophic. Streamlining the NEPA process will make it easier to better manage our federal forests and protect our lands from wildfire. I applaud Secretary Perdue for taking action to promote sound forest management and hopefully help to prevent future disasters in rural areas like Northern California,” said Vice Chairman for Agriculture and Chief Business Officer Doug LaMalfa (CA-01).

“In recent years, the West has been devastated by catastrophic wildland fires.  And the reason is quite simple – excess timber is going to come out of the forests one way or the other.  It is either going to be carried out, or it is going to be burned out.  Today, it is being burned out, and the need to restore active forest management has never been more imperative.  The Forest Service’s improvements to its NEPA process will help reduce regulatory burdens that have subjected our forests to benign neglect.  Categorical exclusions have worked in the Tahoe Basin in my district, and I am pleased the administration is building upon this proven method of active forest management,” said Vice Chairman for Water and Wildlife Tom McClintock (CA-04).

“National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations are overly burdensome to the permitting process and detrimental to critical projects in Idaho. These policies have opened up Idaho to frequent and frivolous lawsuits on forestry projects. Many times, these environmental lawsuits which seek to protect the environment, cause the very delays and neglect which lead to these forests burning. I applaud President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Perdue for their commitment to reducing the regulatory burden of NEPA and working to modernizing these processes,” said Congressman Russ Fulcher (ID-01). 

“For decades, red tape has put up significant roadblocks to actively managing national forests. This rule will provide additional tools and flexibility for better management, while reducing excessive regulations. This will ultimately lead to improved forest health,” said Congressman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-15). 

“After another record setting wildfire season in California, it is clear we need to better manage our forests. I applaud the U.S. Forest Service for streamlining environmental permitting for forest management projects that will improve the health of our national forests and help protect the surrounding communities from catastrophic wildfires.” said Congressman Ken Calvert (CA-42). 

“These changes are critical for Utah, the Forest Service, and our natural resources. This will have a big impact on reducing catastrophic fires which have enormous impact on Utah. It is unavoidably obvious that we need more active management of our forests to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires,” said Congressman Chris Stewart (UT-02).

The final rule can be seen HERE. 

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