Washington, D.C. — A coalition of six state attorneys general led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra submitted comments to the U.S. Forest Service today calling on the service to withdraw a proposed rule that would exempt the Tongass National Forest in Alaska from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule (Roadless Rule). The rule would open the largest intact temperate rainforest in North America – an area larger than Maryland – to new roadbuilding and logging. In their comments, the AGs emphasized that the Forest Service failed to provide a rational explanation for its proposed reversal, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act; failed to adequately assess the proposal’s environmental impacts as required under the National Environmental Policy Act; and failed to initiate interagency consultations mandated under the Endangered Species Act. In addition, the AGs noted the increased threat that logging and roadbuilding would pose to the habitat of vulnerable wildlife species, and the Tongass’ role as the largest carbon sink of all the nation’s national forests.
“ ‘Cause I said so’ has never constituted sustainable legal or rational federal policy. Yet, that’s the essence of the Trump Administration’s reasoning for exposing millions of acres of environmentally sensitive and vital public lands and wildlife to exploitation in the Tongass National Forest,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “At this critical juncture in humankind’s fight to sustain a habitable planet, we must protect public lands and the fish and wildlife that reside within them if we expect to preserve our own species. We urge the Trump administration to withdraw its dangerous proposal to radically and inexplicably change the management of the Tongass National Forest.”
Located in Southeast Alaska, the Tongass is a largely untouched remnant of the vast temperate rainforest that once stretched from Alaska to northern California. The area is home to species like humpback whales, green sturgeon, short-tailed albatross, Southern Resident killer whales and salmon. The forest is also an important tourism destination, attracting more than a million visitors every year. By preventing roadbuilding and logging, the Roadless Rule is credited with preserving many of the Tongass’ unique environmental and cultural values.
The AGs’ comments center on the proposal’s failure to comply with three federal laws:
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA):
In their comments, the AGs said that the proposed rule and supporting Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) fail to comply with NEPA’s requirement that the Forest Service rationally consider and disclose all of the rule’s potential environmental impacts. For instance, the Forest Service provides no analysis, study, or citation to support its assertion that the proposed rule will have no significant environmental impact. The Draft EIS discounts the climate impacts of the proposed rule, discarding an earlier conclusion that logging in the Tongass can cause significant greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, the study unlawfully dismisses potential impacts of logging and roadbuilding to migratory birds as negligible, contradicting the Forest Service’s previous findings.
The Administrative Procedure Act (APA):
The AGs also say that the proposed rule violates the APA by failing to provide a rational explanation for exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule, a radical policy change for the national forest. In previous findings, the Forest Service had found that roadless area protections were critical to preserving the Tongass’ unique environmental values and the proposal fails to explain why its previous findings are no longer valid.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA):
The AGs’ comments also highlight the Forest Service’s failure to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service about possible impacts to species protected under the Endangered Species Act — including Pacific humpback whales and short-tailed albatross — even though the service acknowledged in the Draft EIS that logging and roadbuilding could impact these and other species.
The attorneys general of Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Washington joined California in submitting the comments.
About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (State Impact Center) is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to helping state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks and advocate for clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
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