Forest Service revises environmental policy review rules

November 19, 2020

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it finalized changes to how the Forest Service undertakes environmental reviews of its actions under federal law.

The Forest Service introduced a process where it could use old environmental analyses to satisfy federal requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act and add new categories of land exempt from those analyses.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said the changes would increase the agency’s efficiency while honoring its environmental stewardship responsibilities.

“These changes will ensure we do the appropriate level of environmental analysis to fit the work, locations and conditions,” said Perdue. “The new categorical exclusions will ultimately improve our ability to maintain and repair the infrastructure people depend on to use and enjoy their national forests – such as roads, trails, campgrounds and other facilities.”

Critics said the rule undercuts the role of science, transparency and public input for decisions involving projects on national forest land.

“Yet again we see the Trump administration prioritizing polluting industry over the health of our forests, wildlife and communities,” said Sierra Club “Lands, Water, Wildlife” campaign director Dan Ritzman. “We need the clean water, clean air and wildlife habitat forests provide. We need standing forests to fight the climate and extinction crises and to protect communities from the climate impacts already here. We need communities to have a voice in projects that threaten their well-being. Sierra Club will continue to fight for healthy communities, human and wild.”

The outgoing Trump administration is working to push through dozens of environmental rollbacks and policy changes in its final weeks.

Some could be rolled back by executive action, but others may require lengthy regulatory processes.

Forest Service revises environmental policy review rules