Tester’s ‘categorical exclusions’ cut the public out of decision-making on public lands
Industrial forest management near Rosebud, Oregon (Photo by the United States Department of Agriculture via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 3.0).
There’s a very troubling trend among federal and state government agencies to use “categorical exclusions” to forego environmental analysis on projects — many very large projects — on public lands.
While the proponents say the exclusions speed up the process, the simple truth is they cut the public out of the opportunity to review and comment on agency decision making.
Certainly one of the high-profile examples in the last year has been the fiasco of the U.S. Forest Service attempting to use a categorical exclusion for the sale of the Holland Lake Lodge to POWDR, a ski resort company that planned significant development on this fragile high-mountain lake.
In the meantime, the Forest Service is now on the hook for its deficient, leaking, sewage pond that services the wastes from both the lodge and its 45-unit campground and RV dump station. It’s so bad even Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality is threatening a $10,000 a day fine against the federal agency.
Tester went on to say: “I would never, ever, ever have voted for a categorical exclusion for the purpose of making some corporation rich off our public lands — never happen, never gonna happen. I think somebody said they found a loophole here and they cut a deal. And the government should never be cutting a deal.”
Why, for instance, is a categorical exclusion verboten for the Holland Lake Lodge, but not for logging tens of thousands of acres of national forest lands in the same vicinity? The truth is, Tester not only voted for a categorical exclusion for logging that, in his words, will be “making some corporation rich off our public lands,” he’s sponsoring legislation to do just that. His Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act allows unlimited amounts of clear-cuts up to 3,000 acres in size to be categorically excluded, as did his ill-fated Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.
These lands belong to the public, not the Forest Service — and it’s the public that has a right to environmental analyses with full opportunity for review, comment, and objection on its forest lands. To exclude the public means government essentially runs itself — and someone should remind Senator Tester that’s never, ever a good idea.
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