The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the law in which land agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and others are required to analyze possible effects and a range of alternatives for any proposed project on public lands and waters. Therefore this will be used by all public land agencies such as National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and affect all forms of recreation across the nation. The Center of Environmental Quality recently released new guidelines for these agencies to implement immediately to consider any possible effects of projects on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
CEQ is accepting public comments until April 10, 2023 and although the guidelines are already being implemented the CEQ has stated, “CEQ intends to either revise the guidance in response to public comments or finalize the interim guidance.” Add your voice to ours a submit a comment using the link below.
Starting in 2010 and the Obama administration, this proposed rule has been on the agenda of many environmental groups. The current proposed rule is, “Recommending that agencies leverage early planning processes to integrate GHG emissions and climate change considerations into the identification of proposed actions, reasonable alternatives (as well as the no-action alternative), and potential mitigation and resilience measures”. Federal agencies can therefore propose actions that they feel would curb climate change. Undoubtedly this will be used as a tool to evaluate any road and motorized vehicle use on public lands. Agencies will also “quantify” GHG emissions for each proposed project and range of alternatives. It is unclear how they will quantify these effects accurately. Roads act as a natural fire barrier and wildfires have a large amount of GHG emissions, will this be reflected through the accounting tools that the federal agencies use? There are studies that show dust particles actually have a cooling effect on the environment. With technology changing so rapidly, this rule should not be implemented which can change federal land agencies process for decades to come.
The reason these new guidelines are so concerning is there are already numerous environmental laws in place to protect natural resources. The guidelines are vague and can go unchecked by public land agencies to potentially restrict any type of motorized use on public lands. This rule will be weaponized by extreme special interest groups that look to keep certain user groups, primarily motorized user groups off of public lands. Laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act as well as others already provide substantial environmental protections. If the laws already in place are not helping with Greenhouse Gas Emissions then one more law won’t help with these effects, it will simply be used as one more tool to discriminate against motorized users. This rule will also require agencies to analyze near term and long term effects and the affected environment. If any action could potentially increase GHG emissions it will not be selected as the proposed action. Essentially you could make the argument that any action could increase GHG emissions long-term (the actions could also decrease GHG emissions long-term). The rule will go unchecked with no oversight, “Agencies should exercise their discretion to select and use the tools, methodologies, and scientific and research information that are of high quality and available to assess relevant effects, alternatives, and mitigation.” This rule will be subjective and simply more red tape weaponized by NEPA.
There is concern that elevated greenhouse gas emissions more negatively affect minority and low-income communities . These are also the communities that have the least amount of public land usage. Public land use is becoming more difficult for these communities as reservation systems, fees and overall restrictions occur. With the proposed rule, agencies have just one more tool to use to arbitrarily close access to public land all in the name of public health and safety. There are many studies that show the health benefits of nature and accessing our public lands. However, if it becomes more and more difficult to access our lands, especially for those who have mobility impairment issues because they can’t use motorized vehicles, then those health benefits will be taking a backseat.
Such a huge change to NEPA that could completely change federal agency decisions across the board should be approved by Congress. This rule has gone back and forth since 2010 proving that it does not have widespread support. More turbulence and unchecked government power will only lead to more problems for agencies which will be costly and timely.