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Trump Administration Attacks National Environmental Policy Act on Bedrock Law’s 50th Anniversary

For Immediate Release
January 6, 2020

Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121,

WASHINGTON (January 6, 2020)— The Trump administration will propose this week to gut National Environmental Policy Act rules for conducting environmental reviews of federal activities — changes that will threaten critical safeguards for air, water and wildlife. The proposal will also squelch public participation in federal agency decisions and impose arbitrary time limits on completion of environmental reviews.

Under the proposed rules, federal agencies could ignore whether a project’s greenhouse gas emissions would worsen climate change. The proposal would also eliminate consideration of cumulative impacts, such as damage to public lands and wildlife from fossil fuel extraction. Oil and gas pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure would escape meaningful environmental analysis, with no consideration of harm to animals like sage grouse or marine mammals from drilling rigs and other projects.

“It’s shameful that the Trump administration is ripping apart America’s cornerstone environmental law on its 50th anniversary,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Trump’s gift to the fossil fuel industry and special interests will silence ordinary Americans while giving polluters a free pass to trash the environment, destroy public lands and kill wildlife.”

The National Environmental Policy Act is sometimes called the “magna carta” of environmental protections. Congress passed the Act nearly unanimously, and it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on Jan. 1, 1970.

NEPA gives the public a voice in government decision-making and ensures that federal agencies take a hard look at potential environmental harms before making decisions. The law has served as the model for conducting environmental reviews for more than 100 countries and dozens of U.S. states and localities.

Data show that NEPA has worked well, despite unproven claims by the Trump administration regarding project delays. For instance, more than 192,000 projects, worth about $300 billion, efficiently went through the NEPA process as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The NEPA process also has been vital in raising concerns about environmentally destructive projects, including the Keystone XL pipeline.

Catastrophes can result when a federal agency exempts a project from environmental review. The Interior Department excluded the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig from an in-depth environmental review under the premise that it would not result in significant harm. In 2010 the oil rig exploded when the blowout preventer failed, killing 11 people and causing the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

“Trump’s attack on NEPA means we’ll likely see more massive oil spills and other environmental catastrophes,” said Hartl. “Forcing federal agencies to ignore environmental threats is a disgraceful abdication of our responsibility to protect the planet for future generations.”

The Trump administration has already taken several steps to weaken NEPA.

In October 2018 the Environmental Protection Agency abruptly stopped issuing public grades on NEPA reviews, which helped determine how well federal agencies were complying with the act. The agency’s grading system provided a clear, nontechnical measure of agencies’ environmental reviews of projects, from pipelines to coal mines to logging in national forests. The Center sued the EPA for failing to release public records on why it stopped issuing the grades.

The public will have 60 days to submit comments on the proposed rule.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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Trump Administration Paves Way for Old-Growth Clearcutting in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

October 15, 2019

Contact: Rebecca Bowe, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2093,
Andy Moderow, Alaska Wilderness League, (907) 360-3622,
Rebecca Sentner, Audubon Alaska, (907) 276-7034,

JUNEAU, AK — The Trump administration today announced plans to gut long-standing protections against logging and road-building in the Tongass National Forest, a cherished old-growth temperate rainforest in Southeast Alaska and homelands of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people. A coalition that includes Alaska Native people and Alaska-based and national organizations opposes the U.S. Forest Service plan, which comes weeks after revelations that President Trump exerted pressure to allow new clear-cuts in the Tongass.

The agency’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), expected to be published by the end of this week, would repeal Roadless Rule protections across more than nine million acres of the Tongass, dangerously weakening this national standard by enabling logging interests to bulldoze roads and clear-cut trees in areas of the Tongass that have been off-limits for decades.

In Alaska, which experienced unprecedented heat waves this summer, the Tongass serves as a buffer against climate change and as a refuge for salmon, birds, and other wildlife. Much like the Amazon rainforest, the Tongass’ stands of ancient trees are champions at absorbing greenhouse gas emissions, storing approximately 8 percent of the total carbon in all national forests of the lower 48 states.

Logging the Tongass would threaten the health of Alaskan salmon by polluting rivers and streams, and by removing trees that help regulate water temperature. Current Roadless Rule protections also extend to cultural and sacred sites of great importance to Alaska Native people, who rely upon the Tongass for spiritual and subsistence practices.

The landmark 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule protects more than 58 million acres of roadless national forest lands across the country. Weakening this policy in Alaska will harm local and indigenous communities, Southeast Alaska’s economy, salmon fisheries, and wildlife. The Tongass, America’s largest and wildest national forest, draws outdoor adventurers, boaters, birders, hunters, and anglers. An intact Tongass supports a robust Southeast Alaskan economy through tourism, commercial and sport fishing, and small businesses. Its old-growth trees provide irreplaceable wildlife habitat for myriad species including wild Pacific salmon, Alexander Archipelago wolves, and Sitka black-tailed deer.

More than 1.5 million Americans voiced support for the Roadless Rule during the original rulemaking process, which followed decades of clear-cutting that had a destructive and lasting impact on the Tongass.

The rule continues to receive overwhelming support in Alaska and across the nation. Recent polling shows that 61 percent of voters nationwide oppose exempting large parts of the Tongass from the protections of the Roadless Rule. In Southeast Alaska, 60 percent support keeping the Roadless Rule in place, more than twice as many as those who support a Tongass exemption. Two different polls were conducted; by Tulchin Research and Lake Research.
“We must holistically analyze the root causes of habitat destruction in the Tongass National Forest along with its directed social injustices, while quickly seeking solutions to the very real climate crisis today that is hugely impacting all the life on the lands we depend upon, including ours. We are the voices for the protection of the 2001 Roadless Rule. It must be coded into law for its own protection from industrial exploitation,” said Wanda Culp, Tlingit Activist, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) Tongass Regional Coordinator

“The world’s largest remaining intact temperate rainforest containing vital old-growth trees is under attack because of efforts to undo the Roadless Rule. The Tongass Rainforest of Alaska — the traditional homelands of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Peoples — has been called ‘the nation’s climate forest’ due to its unsurpassed ability to sequester carbon and mitigate climate impacts. For decades, industrial-scale logging has been destroying this precious ecosystem and disrupting the life-ways of the region’s Indigenous peoples and local communities. We stand with Indigenous peoples, Southeast Alaskans, and allies nationally and internationally to say no to further old-growth logging, and yes to maintaining the current Roadless Rule. Our national forests are essential lungs of the Earth,” said Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN)

“Relinquishing over nine million acres of protected national forest to feed the mouths of an industry that exports our old-growth forests overseas and provides free roads for mining development is not the future of Alaska for Alaskans,” said Natalie Dawson, executive director for Audubon Alaska. “It disregards decades of hard work by Alaskans to protect our remaining forests and salmon-rich waters for sustainable industries that actually exist and rely on healthy, intact forests, and their supported fish, birds, and other wildlife. This is the diversity that will drive the future of Alaska’s economy.”

“The push for an Alaska-specific roadless rule has always been just pretext for continuing to subsidize Southeast Alaska’s old-growth timber industry, and it will do so at the expense of recreation and fishing, Native communities, and wildlife,” said Andy Moderow, Alaska director at Alaska Wilderness League. “Moving forward with an Alaska-specific rule is wrong for the Tongass and wrong for Southeast Alaska. There are better ways to ‘meaningfully address local economic and development concerns’ than asking taxpayers to foot the bill for another hefty subsidy to Alaska’s timber industry, like addressing maintenance backlogs and permitting issues that will benefit the region’s booming tourism and recreation sectors, or stream restoration that will boost Southeast’s billion-dollar fishing industry and support the region’s wildlife.”

“The Tongass National Forest stores more carbon removed from the atmosphere than any other national forest in the country. The Roadless Rule has protected the Tongass rainforest for almost two decades,” said Josh Hicks, roadless defense campaign manager at The Wilderness Society. “By seeking to weaken the Roadless Rule’s protections, the Forest Service is prioritizing one forest use — harmful logging — over mitigating climate change, protecting wildlife habitat, and offering unmatched sight-seeing and recreation opportunities found only in southeast Alaska.”

“Efforts to undermine environmental protection for the Tongass National Forest not only put Alaska’s last vestiges of old-growth forest at risk, but also clear the way for even bigger attacks on forests nationwide. We cannot allow the Trump administration to log away our future and ignore the risks these rollbacks pose to Alaskan communities, forests, and economy,” said Kirin Kennedy, Deputy Legislative Director for lands and wildlife at Sierra Club.

“This is another Trump administration attempt to roll back protections for wildlife and hand over public lands to private interests,” said Patrick Lavin, Alaska policy advisor at Defenders of Wildlife. “The public has overwhelmingly opposed this effort and made clear that the Forest Service should keep watersheds and habitats supporting sustainable resources like salmon intact, not auction them off to timber companies at taxpayer expense.”

“Hundreds of scientists have supported the inclusion of the Tongass National Forest in the National Roadless Conservation Rule due to its extraordinary subsistence wildlife, fisheries, and climate benefits,” said Dominick DellaSala, PhD, president and chief scientist at Geos Institute. “It is Alaska’s first line of climate change defense and deserves full protection under the national Roadless Rule while at the same time the Forest Service implements plans to rapidly transition out of old-growth logging.”

“The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that was released today trades on Southeast Alaskans’ vision for our collective future by prolonging and delaying our region’s transition away from a remnant timber industry on life support,” said Meredith Trainor, Executive Director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council . “Nothing about the effort to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the National Roadless Rule makes sense for the future of Southeast Alaska. The proposed alternative contemplated in the DEIS threatens fish habitat and the fisheries they support; undermines tourism by damaging the landscapes our visitors come to see; destroys deep, wild, forested habitat relied upon by species other than our own; and lifts up the crown jewel of the National Forest system, the big old growth trees of the Tongass National Forest, and asserts that they are worth only as much as the lowest bidder is willing to pay.”

“President Trump’s attack on the Tongass National Forest threatens an irreplaceable national treasure,” said Eric Jorgensen, Earthjustice managing attorney in Juneau. “The millions of ancient trees across this temperate rainforest serve as the greatest carbon sanctuary in the U.S. national forest system, helping us all as a counterweight against the climate crisis. This ecologically rich landscape and critical wildlife habitat will be lost forever if industry is allowed to clear-cut our national forest. There is no good reason to roll back protections for the Tongass, and Earthjustice will oppose this attack on the safeguards wisely established by the Roadless Rule.”

“As a global climate crisis demands that we take urgent conservation and climate-mitigation measures, the Trump administration wants to do the opposite — and lay waste to some of our country’s most unspoiled wildlands that absorb massive amounts of carbon,” said Niel Lawrence, Alaska director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “For nearly two decades, the Roadless Rule has successfully shielded these magnificent natural resources, and we won’t allow the Trump administration to destroy the rule — or that progress — in another taxpayer-subsidized handout to its friends in industry.”

“Alaska’s elected officials are selling out their constituents and robbing future generations by trying to strip protections from one of the most pristine old-growth forests in the world,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Alaska is already reeling from the effects of climate change. Clearcutting remaining old-growth trees in the Tongass National Forest would release significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and make things worse. This disastrous plan would smother vital wild salmon streams with sediment and irreparably harm subsistence hunters. It’s wrong to put private profits ahead of the health and future of Alaskans.”

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Opponents of Proposed Resolution Copper Mine, Land Exchange Hold News Conference Before Public Hearing

Media Advisory
October 7, 2019

Contact: Brytnee Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (631) 870-9925,
Wendsler Nosie, San Carlos Apache Tribe, (928) 200-7762,

QUEEN VALLEY, AZ  — The Apache Stronghold and allies will deliver public comments Tuesday opposing the Resolution Copper mine, which would destroy a sacred site for the Apache people. The group will hold a news conference before Tuesday’s public hearing, hosted by the U.S. Forest Service to gather public comments on an environmental analysis of the project.

The 1,300-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement, released in August 2019, details the potential damage from building one of the largest copper mines in North America. The public comment period ends November 7.

What: News conference with former San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Wendsler Nosie Sr., Apache Stronghold and allies.

When: Tuesday, October 8; news conference at 4:30 p.m.; public hearing at 5 p.m.

Where: Queen Valley Recreation Hall, 1478 East Queen Valley Drive, Queen Valley, Ariz.


Oak Flat, about an hour east of Phoenix, is a sacred site known to Apaches as Chi’Chil’Ba’Goteel. Home to a diverse desert ecosystem, it’s also on federal land within the Tonto National Forest.

For centuries Oak Flat has played a ceremonial role in the Apache culture as a place to harvest medicinal plants for coming-of-age ceremonies. It is also an important part of America’s public land heritage. The Resolution Copper mine would decimate Oak Flat and the surrounding Sonoran Desert.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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Legal Challenge to Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Expanded

For Immediate Release
September 10, 2019

Contact: Jared Margolis, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 310-4054,
Gabby Brown, Sierra Club, (914) 261-4626,
Jake Thompson, Natural Resources Defense Council, (202) 289-2387,
Patrick Davis, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0744,
Mark Hefflinger, Bold Alliance, (323) 972-5192,

GREAT FALLS, MT  — Conservation groups today expanded their federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s illegal approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The groups are suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its streamlined approval of the pipeline, and today added claims challenging the Corps’ failure to ensure that endangered species would not be harmed by the project.

In late 2018 the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana ruled that the Trump administration violated bedrock environmental laws by issuing a permit for Keystone XL without adequately evaluating critical information on the project’s environmental impacts, including tar sands oil spills and climate change.

Although Trump effectively circumvented that ruling by issuing a new permit in March, the fact remains that no federal agency has yet completed the requisite analysis.

Today’s filing expands on the federal lawsuit filed by the same groups in July, which challenged the Army Corps’ approval of the pipeline to be constructed through hundreds of rivers, streams and wetlands without evaluating the project’s impacts. That evaluation is required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act.

“Regulators can’t ignore that Keystone XL will devastate waterways and protected species through oil spills and habitat destruction,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re still fighting Trump’s attempt to ram through this dirty fossil fuel project. This destructive pipeline should never get the chance to ruin clean water that’s crucial to people and endangered species.”

“Though he seems to think otherwise, Donald Trump is not above the law, and we won’t allow him to endanger wildlife, clean water, and the climate to allow a Canadian company to move more tar sands through the United States,” said Sierra Club Senior Attorney Doug Hayes. “We’ve held off construction of Keystone XL for more than a decade, and we won’t stop until this dirty tar sands proposal is put to rest for good.”

“While Trump states over and over again the Keystone XL pipeline is already being built, those of us who live in the states know the reality and risks. Our scenic Niobrara River and the Platte River, where Sandhill and Whooping Cranes migrate, along with farmers’ water wells, are all at risk with this foreign, export pipeline. Trump may not believe in the rule of law, but we the people do, and we will take to the streets, courts and cornfields to ensure this pipeline is never built,” said Jane Kleeb, Bold Alliance founder.

“Trump’s continued attempts to build the dirty, water-polluting Keystone XL pipeline with a rubber stamp instead of full environmental review is deeply disturbing,” said Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth. “On such a major project, the communities who are on the frontlines deserve a comprehensive environmental review to protect themselves, our environment, and endangered species. Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline would be devastating for the farmers, tribes and communities along its route. Stopping this pipeline will help put a stop to Trump’s ongoing corruption.”

“As our new claims show, the Trump administration has put the cart before the horse by approving this dirty pipeline before following federal law and ensuring it will not harm endangered species along the proposed route,” said Jackie Prange, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “In fact, Keystone XL’s effects on species — just like its effects on water bodies, nearby communities, and the climate — would be devastating.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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Conservation Groups Blast Draft Forest Service Rule to Gut Bedrock Environmental Law

For Immediate Release
August 26, 2019

Contact: Susan Jane Brown, Western Environmental Law Center,, 503-914-1323
Randi Spivak, Center for Biological Diversity,, 310-779-4894
Sam Evans, Southern Environmental Law Center,, 828-258-2023

WASHINGTON, DC  — Conservation and public interest groups today submitted formal opposition to a proposed Trump administration rule that would fundamentally change long-held environmental practices and allow for the sweeping destruction of national forests across the country.

In comments to the U.S. Forest Service, 177 groups said the proposed changes to the agency’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementing procedures would gut this important decision-making tool by waiving requirements that the agency disclose environmental harm and involve the public. Among other things, the proposed rule would allow the agency to approve large-scale commercial logging and roadbuilding on up to 7,300 acres (11 square miles) of national forest land at a time without public input or comment.

The Forest Service’s sweeping draft rule broadens so-called “categorical exclusions” to exempt an alarming range of projects from public review, including logging, roadbuilding, oil and gas drilling, mining and power lines. Currently, categorical exclusions are reserved for routine projects that don’t harm the environment, such as hiking trail restoration or maintenance on a park building.

The Forest Service’s draft rule also proposes a sharp reduction in public input – under the agency’s proposed rule, the public would lose the right to comment on more than 93% of decisions affecting national forests and grasslands. Although the Forest Service has stated that the changes are needed to speed up project delivery, the groups’ comments point out that projects with public input and transparent scientific analysis are actually more efficient on a per-acre basis than projects developed behind closed doors.

Before finalizing its proposal, the Forest Service must consider the objections raised in these and the tens of thousands of other comments submitted in opposition. If the Forest Service does not abandon the proposal or fundamentally change course, the proposal’s fate will ultimately be decided by the courts.

The groups submitting comments today issued the following statements:

“The Forest Service’s proposed rule is deeply flawed, not only because it violates federal environmental laws, but also because it seeks to take the public out of public lands management,” said Susan Jane Brown, Attorney and Public Lands Director at Western Environmental Law Center. “Rather than building agreement around transparent science-based land management and restoration, the rule would shroud agency decision-making in arbitrary agency discretion. Instead of increasing efficiency, the proposed rule is guaranteed to result in controversy and litigation. The Forest Service should abandon this rulemaking effort.”

“The Trump Administration is rushing to hand favors to big oil, gas, logging, and mining interests once again with the Forest Service’s latest proposal to attack bedrock environmental law,” said Olivia Glasscock, Attorney at Earthjustice. “This proposal would shut the public out of over 90% of decisions affecting national forests and grasslands. The Forest Service should abandon it and instead concentrate on protecting our best tools in the fight against climate change – our forests.”

“This rule would streamline the destruction of America’s national forests,” said Alison Flint, Director of Litigation and Agency Policy at The Wilderness Society. “Under the guise of ‘modernizing’ forest policy, the rule would shut out the public while speeding up logging, road building and other assaults on wild lands that the public owns. In our comments to the Forest Service, we cite decades of data and science showing that roads are a leading cause of pollution to the forest rivers and streams that provide drinking water for millions of Americans as well as critical habitat for native fish and other wildlife.”

“This proposal would shut out the public – including nearby communities – from helping decide what makes sense for our publicly-owned forests,” said Matthew Davis, Legislative Director of the League of Conservation Voters. “This is yet another Trump administration attack on our public lands and our democratic process for the benefit of corporate polluters. The Trump administration’s Forest Service should abandon this irresponsible proposal and make sure the public’s voice is heard in decision-making.”

“Public involvement is fundamental to democracy, but this proposed rule seeks to silence local communities and move decision-making about our forests behind closed doors,” said Joro Walker, General Counsel for Western Resource Advocates. “We urge the Forest Service to abandon this misguided rulemaking process, which will deprive on-the-ground agency staff of a critical planning tool and put the West’s unique natural places, critical wildlife habitats, and scarce water resources at risk. It will also do nothing to alleviate the real cause of backlog at the agency, which is a lack of funding, rather than the public input and environmental review process.”

“Yet again the Trump administration wants to roll back vital safeguards and curtail public input. This rule will make it easier to log, drill and mine our forests– actions that will be doubly bad for our climate by both increasing pollution and limiting our ability to reduce it. Our forests must be managed as part of the climate solution,” said Kirin Kennedy, Sierra Club Deputy Legislative Director for Lands and Wildlife.

“This rule would keep the public completely in the dark while the Trump administration bulldozes our national forests,” said Randi Spivak, Public Lands Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Forest Service is saying ‘trust us’ with public lands, but they’ve given us every reason not to trust them. This agency has a duty to protect public lands and we intend to make sure that they do, even if it means taking them to court.”

“Audubon and the public depend on NEPA to ensure that decisions affecting birds like marbled murrelets in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska and greater sage-grouse in the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho are based on sound science and made with public input,” said Nada Culver, Vice President for Public Lands, National Audubon Society. “But the Forest Service is letting all these fundamental concepts fly out the window in order to more hastily approve logging, energy development and road building. The Forest Service should abandon this ill-advised process.”

“Public input has saved countless acres of old growth forests, rare habitats, streams, trails, and scenic vistas by persuading the Forest Service to relocate or scale back logging projects, roads, and other infrastructure,” said Sam Evans, National Forests and Parks Program Leader for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Now, under tremendous pressure to meet climbing timber quotas, the agency wants to forgo those improvements and instead hide the impacts of its projects from public view. We won’t stand for it.”

“The proposed rule brings no comfort to the hundreds of imperiled wildlife species that depend on America’s national forests for their survival.  As the world wrestles with a biodiversity crisis, it is irresponsible and reprehensible for this administration to willfully ignore the negative impacts of logging and roadbuilding on America’s treasured wildlife and lands,” said Peter Nelson, Director of Federal Lands, Defenders of Wildlife.

“From Grand Canyon to Shenandoah National Parks, more than a dozen of our country’s most iconic parks border national forest lands. And what happens in forests adjacent to national parks can dramatically impact the environment inside the park itself. The U.S. Forest Service’s proposed rule not only threatens the lands, water and wildlife found in our national forests, but will also inevitably impact the irreplaceable natural and cultural resources within park borders,” said Ani Kame’enui, Deputy Vice President of Government Affairs for National Parks Conservation Association. “NPCA has long been a supporter of the National Environmental Policy Act and its facilitation of community engagement and commitment to landscape connectivity. The proposed rule cuts at the very heart of this bedrock law, undermining both national park landscapes and the millions of people who visit these treasured places each year.”

A copy of the organizations’ technical comments is available HERE.

In addition, the following organizations, state governments, and decision-makers also submitted comments in opposition to the Forest Service’s proposed rule:

Jim Furnish, a retired Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service
The Conservation Alliance, a group of 250 outdoor and related businesses
25 U.S. Senators opposing the Forest Service’s draft rule
27 U.S. Representatives opposing the Forest Service’s draft rule
54 law professors from across the country with thousands of years of experience in federal administrative, environmental, and natural resources law
Horst Greczmiel, former Associate Director for NEPA Oversight at CEQ, expressing deep concern with the Forest Service’s draft rule
Local elected officials from Eagle County, CO; Pitkin County, CO; Gunnison County (CO); the City of Aspen, CO; Boulder County, CO; county officials in Pima County, AZ; San Juan County Commission (UT); Grand County Commission (UT); and, King County, WA

Center for Biological Diversity * Defenders of Wildlife * Earthjustice * League of Conservation Voters * National Audubon Society * National Parks Conservation Association * Sierra Club * Southern Environmental Law Center * The Wilderness Society * Western Environmental Law Center * Western Resource Advocates

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Lawsuit Challenges New Trump Administration Land Swap to Bulldoze Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

For Immediate Release
August 7, 2019

Contact: David C. Raskin, Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, (425) 209-9009,
Fran Mauer, Alaska chapter — Wilderness Watch, (907) 978-1102,
Randi Spivak, Center for Biological Diversity, (310) 779-4894,
Tim Woody, The Wilderness Society, (907) 223-2443,
Dawnell Smith, Trustees for Alaska, (907) 433-2013,

ANCHORAGE, AK  — Conservation groups sued the Trump administration today to challenge a land-swap deal with King Cove Corporation aimed at putting a road through the heart of Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Izembek is one of America’s most ecologically significant wildlife refuges, home to world-class wetlands that support millions of migrating birds, fish and caribou.

In March a federal judge threw out a previous land exchange proposal. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt agreed to the new land swap July 12 without public knowledge or input. Unlike the earlier proposal, the latest deal does not limit the road to health, safety and non-commercial uses. It is otherwise similar to the previous agreement rejected by the court.

“The Department of Interior has attempted an end run around the recent federal court decision that halted its plans to desecrate the Izembek Refuge Wilderness and its wildlife,” said David C. Raskin, president of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. “This new backroom deal adds to a long series of actions by Interior to give away public lands to serve special interests at the expense of the American people. We are disappointed by this continuation of the illegal and unethical efforts of the current administration to circumvent decades of legislation and regulations enacted to protect public lands and natural areas from destructive developments and preserve them for the benefit of all Americans. We will use every means at our disposal to continue the fight to save the Izembek Refuge.”

Today’s lawsuit, filed by Trustees for Alaska in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, says Interior cannot use the land exchange provision of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to gut a national wildlife refuge and circumvent public process, environmental review and congressional approval. It also says the latest land exchange violates the National Environmental Policy Act and fails to adequately justify the agency’s reversal of an Obama-era decision rejecting a land exchange.

“This deal violates the same laws as the first one, and we’re prepared to continue the legal fight to protect this irreplaceable wilderness,” said Bridget Psarianos, staff attorney for Trustees for Alaska. “This is another Trump administration public land giveaway that breaks multiple laws and dishonors the public processes that go into protecting the health of the lands, waters and wildlife of the National Refuge and Wilderness System.”

Congress passed ANILCA to preserve natural landscapes, wildlife, unaltered habitat and designated wilderness areas. Interior’s proposed land swap would give an ecologically irreplaceable corridor of land between lagoons to King Cove Corporation for a road. This vital area of the isthmus forms the heart of the Izembek refuge.

“Spending millions to build a road through federal wilderness would be a bad deal for taxpayers and a bad deal for the environment,” said Kristen Miller, conservation director at Alaska Wilderness League. “Yet the Bernhardt Interior Department continues to try and sidestep bedrock environmental laws like the Wilderness Act and the federal court system to satisfy politic desires and commercial interests. The previous administration looked long and hard at the road proposal and rejected it for sound reasons, and the district court and the Ninth Circuit agreed. This new plan, and really the entire process, reeks of self-serving backroom dealing and public lands theft at its most egregious.”

Trustees for Alaska also notified Bernhardt today of the groups’ intent to sue for Endangered Species Act violations related to the land swap.

“Bernhardt’s shady backroom deal is just as illegal as the land swap a judge already rejected,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Izembek is a vital wildlife refuge that feeds millions of birds from three continents. You can’t swap land here for anywhere else because there’s nothing else like it. We’ll keep fighting to ensure Izembek remains protected.”

All Harvey, the Alaska campaign representative from the Sierra Club, said, “The Trump administration’s plan to trade away wilderness in Izembek to be industrialized has been repeatedly studied and consistently rejected for good reason. Now, despite confirmation from the District Court that it’s illegal, Secretary Bernhardt is shamelessly trying to work behind closed doors to push the same deal forward again. We will continue to fight back against this costly and irresponsible deal.”

“The Trump administration is once again trading away public lands for a road through the Izembek Refuge Wilderness that would not only destroy the ecological integrity of Izembek, but would also establish a ruinous precedent for the entire National Wilderness Preservation System,” said Fran Mauer, representative of the Alaska chapter of Wilderness Watch. “This must not stand!”

Sarah Greenberger, vice president of conservation policy at the Audubon Society, said, “Common ground exists between critical wildlife protection for some of the world’s largest flocks of migrating birds and community needs of rural Alaskans. But it doesn’t require the sacrifice of an internationally important wetland refuge with tremendous costs to American taxpayers.”

David Krause, assistant state director for The Wilderness Society, said, “The Trump administration is up to its usual shady shenanigans to give away America’s public lands within a federally protected wilderness area. Like the previous backroom deal that was struck down by a federal court less than five months ago, we will fight this every step of the way.”

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs are Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, Alaska Wilderness League, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society and Wilderness Watch.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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LCV Statement on ‘America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019″

For Immediate Release
August 5, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC — In response to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works’ passage of  ‘America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019’ out of committee last week, the League of Conservation Voters issued the following statement from Legislative Director Matthew Davis:

“LCV applauds the efforts of Ranking Member Carper to tackle climate change in the surface transportation bill approved by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Transportation is the number one source of climate change-inducing pollution and there is an urgent need for smart, clean investments in our transportation infrastructure.

“Unfortunately, while this is an important first step towards cleaner transportation options, the public input and environmental review rollbacks buried in the middle of the bill are concerning. We will continue to fight to remove these rollbacks of critical gas pipeline review processes that have nothing to do with surface transportation  as the bill moves forward.”

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Senate Advances Bill That Would Gut Environmental Review of Oil Pipelines, Other Large Infrastructure Projects

For Immediate Release
July 24, 2019

Contact: Paulo Lopes, (202) 849-8398,

WASHINGTON, DC (July 24, 2019)  — A Senate committee today approved a bill that would side-step environmental review to fast-track large infrastructure projects, including oil pipelines and natural gas export terminals.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved S. 1976, the Federal Permitting Reform and Jobs Act, by a voice vote. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), would exempt infrastructure projects from detailed environmental reviews and public input that are required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

“It’s shameful that senators are allowing more agencies to ignore the public’s voice and rubber-stamp oil pipelines and other dangerous projects,” said Paulo Lopes, a public lands policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The National Environmental Policy Act protects the health and safety of communities. But senators are falling for the bogus industry myth that it’s too burdensome. The best projects occur when the public and environment are fully protected.”

In 2015 Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which weakened environmental review and public input for highway projects. The law also established a permitting council that authorized even more limited environmental review on other projectsexceeding $200 million, including oil pipelines and nuclear plants. These provisions are set to end in 2022.

Portman’s bill would make these provisions permanent and expand them to include transportation and Army Corp of Engineers projects, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, which were previously excluded.

Supporters of the end run around the environmental review process said it was intended to speed highway construction, but highway construction times have increased. A 2016 Department of Treasury report found that a lack of funding was the most common indicator delaying the completion of transportation projects.

“Further undermining environmental safeguards won’t move projects forward any faster,” Lopes said. “This is a flimsy excuse to avoid public input and shirk one of nation’s bedrock environmental laws. The government admits that it’s a lack of money that slows things down.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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White House Launches Attack on Climate Guidance for Federal Agencies

For Immediate Release
July 24, 2019

Contact: Jonathon Berman,

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, the Trump administration’s White House Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) released new draft guidance for federal agencies, gutting requirements for environmental reviews of fossil fuel projects.

Under the new guidance, agencies will not be obligated to give greater consideration to greenhouse gas emissions than to other threats to the environment when evaluating proposed projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The draft guidance attempts an end run around the existing obligation that federal agencies consider the cumulative environmental impacts — including climate impacts — of federal actions, instead directing agencies to compare a project’s greenhouse gas emissions to state or national levels in lieu of meaningful disclosure of the cumulative climate impact of an agency’s decisions. Furthermore, the new guidance questions whether the use of the social cost of carbon is even appropriate to use.
Signed into law in 1970, NEPA requires the government to give an opportunity for public input and take environmental, economic, and health impacts into consideration before approving any major project. Attempted actions by the Trump administration to rush through approval of a number of controversial fossil fuel proposals — including Keystone XL and a massive expansion of drilling on public lands — have been rejected by the courts because the administration failed to conduct adequate environmental reviews required under NEPA.
In response, Sierra Club Deputy Legislative Director Matthew Gravatt released the following statement:
“Once again, the Trump administration is more than willing to change the rules to benefit their corporate polluter friends. Today’s actions do nothing but turn a blind eye to the climate crisis while further stripping oversight and safeguards in an effort to aid the fossil fuel industry tear through our communities, public lands, and waterways with dirty and dangerous projects. NEPA is a critical safeguard for our clean air and water, our climate, and our families’ health. We will pursue every available avenue to fight back against this shameless handout to polluters.”

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit

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Forest Service proposes regulatory rollbacks that would increase logging, mining on national forests and limit public input

For Immediate Release
June 12, 2019

Alison Flint, The Wilderness Society, 303 802-1404,
Susan Jane Brown, Western Environmental Law Center, 503-914-1323,
Sam Evans, Southern Environmental Law Center, 828-318-0925, 

WASHINGTON, DC (June 12, 2019)  — Today the U.S. Forest Service released an advance copy of its proposed rule to overhaul its environmental analysis procedures under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which will dramatically curtail the role the public and science play in land management decisions on 193 million acres of national forest lands across the country.

These changes would create loopholes to increase the pace and scale of resource extraction, including logging and mining, all while limiting the scope of public awareness and input on proposed projects. The Forest Service has proposed several new categorical exclusions that would allow the agency to move project planning behind closed doors by cutting out the public out from the decision-making process.

The goal of NEPA is to foster better decisions to protect, restore, and enhance our environment and is based on three key principles: 1) transparency; 2) informed decision making; and 3) giving the public a voice. This is achieved through two key tools: public comment and requiring the Forest Service to “look before it leaps” by preparing environmental assessments (EA) and environmental impact statements (EIS). These documents provide agency decision makers, the public and outside experts with relevant information and require agencies to take a “hard look” at the potential environmental consequences of a proposed project before making decisions and taking actions.

The Forest Service’s proposed rule undermines these basic tenets by increasing the number and scope of “categorical exclusions” for nearly every type of land management action, and exempts those decisions from public comment. Only cursory public notice may occur.

“Balancing America’s many needs and uses on our public lands is hard work, but it’s the Forest Service’s most important job—today’s proposal makes it clear that the agency is turning its back on that responsibility,” said Sam Evans, leader of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s National Forests and Parks Program. “Instead of working to balance the many ecological, economic, and recreational demands of our National Forests, the Forest Service is proposing to cut the public out of decisions that could cause serious harms to these treasured places, and to return to back-room decision making without any transparency or accountability.”

“The Forest Service has used the mantra of ‘shared stewardship’ to describe its management goals for national forests with stakeholders such as states, tribes, and the broader public,” said Susan Jane Brown, staff attorney and public lands director with the Western Environmental Law Center. “But this proposed rule cuts the public out by authorizing nearly every land management action without detailed environmental analysis and public comment or administrative review. That’s no one’s definition of shared stewardship.”

“This proposed rule is an affront to our national forests and their owners – the American people. It would gut important procedural safeguards for our most sensitive forest lands and resources, including roadless and other wildlands that provide our drinking water, wildlife habitat, and unmatched recreation opportunities,” said Alison Flint, director of litigation and agency policy at The Wilderness Society. “The rule would shut the public out of the environmental review process by allow damaging logging and road-building projects in those areas to move forward with no public input or environmental analysis. This comes at the same time that the Forest Service is weakening substantive protections for those same roadless areas.”

To justify its proposed rule, the Forest Service argues that changes to NEPA are necessary to increase its efficiency and increase the pace and scale of land management decisionmaking. However, the Forest Service itself has acknowledged that a lack of internal agency capacity and training, as well as an agency culture that rewards “moving out to move up” (or, agency turnover), leads to delays in planning and implementation. The proposed rule does not address this fundamental problem.

“The proposed changes for planning under the National Environmental Policy Act is just the latest example of this administration ignoring its responsibilities to steward public lands for wildlife, watersheds, and recreation values in pursuit of increased development on national forests,” said Peter Nelson, director of federal lands at Defenders of Wildlife. “They would diminish the public’s ability to carefully examine the impacts of logging and roadbuilding projects on national forests or to hold the administration accountable for decisions that harm public lands, as well as the wildlife and communities that depend on them.”

“Yet again the Trump administration is rolling back vital safeguards and curtailing public input. These changes will not protect our forests from fire, but rather risk their future,” said Kirin Kennedy, Sierra Club deputy legislative director for lands and wildlife.

“The Trump administration is trying to stifle the public’s voice and hide environmental damage to public lands,” said Ted Zukoski, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These rules would let the Forest Service sidestep bedrock environmental laws. Logging companies could bulldoze hundreds of miles of new roads and chainsaw miles of national forests while ignoring the damage to wildlife and waterways. All of this would happen without involving nearby communities or forest visitors.”

Background: Changes in the proposed draft rule

Expands categorical exclusions. NEPA allows certain projects to be categorically excluded from detailed environmental review. In some cases, the public would only be notified of a proposed project, without an opportunity to review or comment on its environmental consequences. As a result, the federal courts will be the only way for the public to have their voice heard. The Forest Service also proposes to adopt any categorical exclusion created by any other federal agency as its own, without discussing the environmental effects or appropriateness of these potentially limitless exclusions.

Utilization of “determinations of NEPA adequacy.” This new proposed authority, based on similar Department of Interior authority, would allow the Forest Service to rely on its “experience” with past projects to authorize a proposed action of a similar nature without conducting site-specific environmental analysis. However, because the Forest Service rarely monitors the actual effects of its decisions, it is unlikely that the agency can rationally conclude that future projects will have no environmental impacts. Moreover, given the severely degraded condition of many of our national forests, it is arbitrary to suggest that past land management decisions have resulted in limited environmental impacts.

Embraces condition-based management. This authority allows the Forest Service to conduct land management actions, generally timber harvest, whenever the agency encounters a particular environmental condition, such as insect outbreaks or high fuel loads, on the ground. Site-specific analysis would not be required. The agency would not be required to consider a range of alternatives to addressing the environmental condition, even though alternative development is the “heart” of the environmental analysis process.
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