The Bureau of Land Management is punching holes in the National Environmental Policy Act big enough to drive a 30-ton thumper truck through.
In January, the BLM proposed
adding 11 new categorical exclusions to the 73 already existing.
The designation, used for projects routinely found to have no
significant environmental impact, allows the agency to sidestep
NEPA-mandated studies and public comment. The Forest Service
proposed similar exemptions for oil and gas projects in December,
despite an earlier court ruling that limited the agency’s use
of such exemptions (HCN, 10/31/05: Forest Service tries to teach
greens a lesson).
Under the new exclusions, the BLM could
approve salvage logging projects of up to 250 acres, grant or renew
grazing permits, and allow energy exploration — including the
use of seismic testing trucks — when no road construction is
involved. These exclusions alone could affect more than 235 million
acres of public land, environmental groups say.
changes will speed up the approval process and let the BLM focus on
studying projects with larger impacts, says agency spokeswoman
Heather Feeney. Activities that might harm endangered species,
wilderness, historic and cultural resources, wetlands or prime
farmlands would still trigger a full environmental assessment.
But conservationists say the proposals — like the
batch of categorical exclusions wrapped in last year’s energy
bill — slam the door on public involvement. "They’re
telling people, ‘It’s none of your business, we
don’t have to keep you informed,’ " says Nada Culver,
senior counsel for the Wilderness Society.
comment deadline is Feb. 24. For more information, see