GOP launches new assault on public lands

Proposed bill would cut environmental reviews for massive clear cut logging and block access to environmental justice

Proposed legislation introduced by Republicans in Congress would open the door to widespread clearcutting without environmental reviews and black conservation advocates from seeking environmental justice in federal courts. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Once again, Republican lawmakers in Congress are trying to roll back long-standing forest protections on a piecemeal basis, knowing that the public would never stand for a frontal assault on fundamental public lands environmental regulations.

The difference now is that they have an ally in the White House willing sign such measures, which makes resistance in the legislature even more critical. In the latest effort, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) reintroduced a measure that would allow logging projects on up to 30,000 acres — more than 46 square miles — of public land to proceed without meaningful public input, regardless of the environmental harms they might cause.

The bill would also remove protections for old-growth trees and make it easier for endangered wildlife to be harmed during logging projects. It is scheduled for a hearing in the House Natural Resources Federal Lands Subcommittee on Thursday.

Forests are critical for watershed protection, especially in the face of global warming. And they also help directly fight climate change by removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

“This bill is a blank check to special interests that want to increase logging regardless of the damage it does to our public lands, wildlife and watersheds,” said Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The so-called “Resilient Federal Forests Act” would eliminate Endangered Species Act requirements that the Forest Service consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure logging projects don’t jeopardize endangered wildlife or plants.

The legislation more than triples the amount of acres where logging would not be subject to meaningful public participation or scientific evaluation of environmental harms. “Categorical exclusions” would allow logging operations up to 10,000 acres and, in certain cases up to 30,000 acres, with no overall limits.

“Eliminating these longstanding protections that actually help forests to be resilient will lead to reckless logging, soil erosion, dirtier water and a proliferation of invasive species,” Spivak said in a statement.

The measure would also try to limit citizens access to legal justice by requiring critics to submit to binding arbitration. Since 2010 Republicans in Congress have launched repeated attacks on the ability of citizens to bring legal challenges against agency actions that harm the environment, worker protections and other safeguards.

“Anyone who has ever tried to challenge their TV cable provider or phone service understands just how infuriating binding arbitration can be. Ordinary people are almost helpless to navigate that morass,” Spivak said. “That’s what Westerman wants to force upon Americans who try to make their voices heard about how public lands are managed and to hold agencies accountable.”

In the first four months of the 115th Congress, Republicans have introduced more than 40 anti-public-lands bills that would weaken protections, turn over control of America’s public lands to states and increase extractive activities.

The vast majority of voters across political parties support protecting and maintaining forests, national parks, monuments and other public lands and waters.

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