U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today issued the following statement after the USDA Forest Service announced a proposed rule to update and modernize its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations.
"I support the Forest Service's efforts to streamline their environmental analysis and decision-making process," Murkowski said. "The agency has long struggled to clear its permit backlog for recreation and critical infrastructure, and is facing an urgent need to repair trails, campgrounds, and complete forest restoration projects that protect against wildfire. I have long argued that the Forest Service must improve its approach, and these revisions are an important step forward for their mission to care for our nation's forests and grasslands for the enjoyment of present and future generations."
The Forest Service has proposed to increase its use of categorical exclusions (CEs), which allow federal permits to be issued for projects that are determined to have no significant environmental impact. According to the Forest Service, existing regulations can delay a permit for over a year while the same permit could be approved within a month under a CE.
The Forest Service plans to use CEs more tactically for low impact and environmentally sensible projects, such as expediting the approval of permits for hiking trails, and critical public safety needs such as clearing dead or dying trees from fire-prone forests. Forest Service officers on the ground -- the men and women who are the most connected with local communities and stakeholders -- would have greater discretion in using CEs.
If adopted, this would be the first time since 2008 that the Forest Service has updated its NEPA regulations. The proposed rule includes a 60-day public comment period and the Forest Service will also engage in tribal consultation.
Murkowski is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.