Tenth Circuit reinstates Roadless Rule in national forests

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] unanimously ruled [opinion text] to restore the Roadless Rule [text], ending a 2008 national injunction [JURIST report]. The Roadless Rule blocks road-building and commercial timber harvesting on expanses of roadless areas around the country, primarily the National Forests. The National Forest Services (NFS) and the US Department of Agriculture [official websites] argued that promulgation of the Roadless Rule did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Wilderness Act [texts], and that they believed a national prohibition on the law was inappropriate. The court agreed that a national injunction was not permissible, and that the agencies had leverage to enforce the Roadless Rule:

[A]gencies have considerable discretion to define the purposes and objectives of a proposed action, as long as they are reasonable. In this action, the Forest Service stated that the defined purpose of the Roadless Rule was, to provide long-term "protect[ion] [of] the values prevalent in roadless areas" by "immediately stop[ping] activities that have the greatest likelihood of degrading desirable characteristics of [IRAs]."... To achieve the defined purpose of the proposed rule, "the agency determined that only those uses and activities that are likely to significantly alter landscapes and cause landscape fragmentation on a national scale [would] be considered for prohibition in this proposal." [...] Unlike the district court, we will defer to the Forest Service's judgment on this issue. Accordingly, we find that the Forest Service reasonably limited the detailed alternatives analysis to the three alternatives—in addition to the required "no action" alternative—that prohibited road construction, because any alternative permitting road construction to a greater extent would not further the defined objective of the Roadless Rule and would therefore not be "reasonable."
Earthjustice [advocacy website], who argued the case for a number of environmental groups, praised [press release] the decision as a major victory: "There's mostly bad news in the headlines these days; this is most definitely of the other kind." However, a defender of the injunction, the Colorado Mining Association [advocacy website] stated [press release, PDF] that the ruling threatens mining jobs in the region, as well as limiting access to vital minerals.

The Roadless Conservation Area Rule was implemented by former president Bill Clinton in 2001 and replaced by the Bush administration in 2005. The Clinton-era rule would have prohibited mining, logging, and road construction in the forests of 38 states and Puerto Rico, totaling more than 58 million acres of land. The Clinton administration measure was effectively overturned [JURIST report] in 2005 by the State Petitions Rule [text], enacted by the US Department of Agriculture [official website] under President George W Bush. The State Petitions Rule allowed governors to petition for Roadless Rule protections, depending on their individual state needs, in lieu of blanket protection. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] in 2009 affirmed a district court ruling reinstating the Roadless Rule [JURIST report], a decision analyzed [JURIST op-ed] by JURIST Hotline contributor Mike Dubrasich, Executive Director of the Western Institute for Study of the Environment [advocacy website]. In March of 2009, the US House of Representatives voted to approve [JURIST report] the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 [HR 146 materials], a collection of more than 160 bills aimed at preserving federal land as wilderness areas. The Act includes a rule which allows governors to request that regulations on the management of roadless areas be developed to meet the needs of individual states.

 

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