Jan. 3, 2018 The Forest Service publishes an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Request for Comment. The proposed rule seeks to revise the Forest Service’s formal NEPA regulations as well as its internal NEPA procedures. The Forest Service requests comments on methods to improve efficiency, approaches to authorize many projects under a singular NEPA review, actions that could be categorically excluded from NEPA procedures, and ways the agency may better coordinate environmental review with other government entities.
March 16, 2018 The Forest Service publishes an executive summary of the 34,000 comments received on the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The Forest Service states that it expects to publish a proposed rule in early Summer 2018.
March 23, 2018 In the omnibus spending bill, Congress includes categorical exclusions for “hazardous fuels reduction” for certain forested areas. This is intended to speed up the removal of dead wood that can fuel wildlands fires, but may also have the effect of allowing more trees to be logged on federal lands. The definition of “hazardous fuels reduction” referenced in the bill includes “crushing, tractor and hand piling, tree removal (to produce commercial or pre-commercial products), and pruning.” This will allow the Forest Service to approve these actions, including logging, without going through a full NEPA analysis. The categorical exclusion applies to hazardous fuel reduction on areas up to 3,000 acres in size.
June 13, 2019 The Forest Service publishes proposed revisions to its NEPA regulations. The proposed revisions create a series of new categorical exemptions for projects in National Forests. For example, agency approvals of timber cuts up to 4,200 acres of trees when coupled with nearby habitat restoration, agency roads of up to five miles in length, and mines up to a square mile in size would all be excluded from NEPA review under the proposed regulations. This proposal is open for comment until August 26, 2019 following an extension of the comment period. The comments are viewable in the docket here.
Nov. 19, 2020 The Forest Service adopts a final rule amending its NEPA regulations. The rule establishes new and revised categorical exclusions which are used to exclude certain projects from NEPA review. The six new categorical exclusions involve activities related to recreation special uses, administrative sites, recreation sites, restoration and resilience projects, and certain road management projects. The Forest Service has delayed its final rule on other categorical exclusions, aiming to propose it next fall.
Jan. 8, 2021 Nine environmental groups file a lawsuit challenging new Forest Service and CEQ NEPA regulations. Clinch Coal. v. U.S. Forest Service, No. 2:21-cv-00003-JPJ-PMS (W.D. Va.).