2012 Appropriations Language- Objections and Other Topics of Interest
Here’s a link to the Appropriations Bill.
I think NCFP readers might be particularly interested in this section (428):
FOREST SERVICE PRE-DECISIONAL OBJECTION PROCESS
SEC. 428. Hereafter, upon issuance of final regulations, the
Secretary of Agriculture, acting through the Chief of the Forest
Service, shall apply section 105(a) of the Healthy Forests Restoration
Act of 2003 (16 U.S.C. 6515(a)), providing for a pre-decisional
objection process, to proposed actions of the Forest Service concerning
projects and activities implementing land and resource
management plans developed under the Forest and Rangeland
Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (16 U.S.C. 1600 et
seq.), and documented with a Record of Decision or Decision Notice,
in lieu of subsections (c), (d), and (e) of section 322 of Public
Law 102–381 (16 U.S.C. 1612 note), providing for an administrative
appeal process: Provided, That if the Chief of the Forest Service
determines an emergency situation exists for which immediate
implementation of a proposed action is necessary, the proposed
action shall not be subject to the pre-decisional objection process,
and implementation shall begin immediately after the Forest
Service gives notice of the final decision for the proposed action:
Provided further, That this section shall not apply to an authorized
hazardous fuel reduction project under title I of the Healthy Forests
Restoration Act of 2003 (16 U.S.C. 6501 et seq.).
I thought we had discussed appeals vs. objections here before, but perhaps under the planning rule discussions, and projects are different from plans, so, perhaps we have never had a robust discussion on that topic here. Since the FS will be doing a regulation based on Congressional intent, this seems like a good time to start a discussion of people’s experiences and ideas about objections on projects.
For example, our friends at CBD did not seem enthusiastic about objections compared to appeals as in their press release:
Budget Deal Slashes Public’s Oversight of National Forests
WASHINGTON— In a major blow to public oversight of the national forest system, the 2012 Omnibus Appropriations Act — which now awaits President Obama’s signature — includes a rider that eliminates the public’s ability to administratively appeal Forest Service management decisions. The change, which applies to all management actions across the 193-million-acre national forest system, will diminish opportunities for the public to weigh in on timber sales, oil and gas leasing and other activities affecting forests, recreation, wildlife and pristine landscapes. Instead, it leaves litigation as the public’s only recourse against illegal Forest Service decisions.
“This year’s appropriations bill is a bad deal for the American public and our national forests,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “National forests are publicly owned lands that deserve public oversight. Curtailing the public’s participation will mean more bad timber sales, drilling and other development proposals.”
The bill replaces administrative appeals with a Bush-era “pre-decisional” objection process that only allows the public to “object” to management proposals before they’ve been finalized. The bill also reduces the amount of time that the public has to respond to specific proposals — from 45 to 30 days. In addition, it includes a sweeping, vague clause allowing the Forest Service to bypass even the pre-decisional objection processes whenever it determines that emergency circumstances exist.
The rollbacks in public participation come just as the Forest Service is re-writing and substantively weakening National Forest Management Act regulations that provide the framework for national forest management nationwide. After being struck down numerous times by the courts, the Forest Service is again seeking to replace longstanding enforceable standards for wildlife and watersheds with largely unenforceable discretionary provisions. A final rule is expected early in the new year.
“For decades, national forest policy trended toward stronger environmental safeguards and more public involvement and oversight,” said McKinnon. “This week’s elimination of administrative appeals, along with the attempted weakening of safeguards in the planning rule, mark a drastic step backwards for our national forest system — all on the Obama administration’s watch.”
But why would pre-decisional objections be inherently worse than post-decisional appeals? Both give folks a chance to express their feelings about a project. After both, if you don’t agree with the outcome, you can litigate?? (I also don’t know what they mean about the planning rule potentially (as it hasn’t been released yet) replacing “longstanding enforceable standards for wildlife and watersheds”. I understand that wildlife means the viability provision of the 1982 rule; however, I’m not clear what they are referring to with regard to watersheds.
If there are other topics in the Appropriations bill that others would like to discuss, let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we can start separate posts on those.