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unEARTHED. The Earthjustice Blog

Roadless Déjà Voodoo All Over Again in Alaska

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21 June 2011, 5:48 PM
State tries old, discredited legal arguments in new roadless attack
Tongass National Forest

The long and winding saga of the Roadless Rule, adopted in the Clinton administration after an exhaustive public process, just took a new turn, though it smacks of desperation.

To recap, the Roadless Rule was put in place to protect 58.5 million acres of undeveloped and otherwise unprotected land on the national forests. The rule has been subject of nine lawsuits. An appeals court in Denver has yet to rule on a lawsuit out of Wyoming; the others have concluded with the Roadless Rule still standing.

We said nine suits had been filed to challenge the rule. Make that 10. On Friday, June 17, the state of Alaska filed a new suit seeking to overturn the rule in its entirety.

Alaska had challenged the rule way back in January 2001, but pulled a fast one in cahoots with the new Bush administration and got the Tongass National Forest in Alaska’s panhandle—by far the biggest and wildest forest in the system—exempted from the rule. It stayed that way until this past spring, when a judge, ruling in a case brought by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council, found the exemption illegal, to the annoyance of industry interests and many Alaska politicians.

In fact there were two sets of papers filed last Friday, one a new suit seeking to dismantle the Roadless Rule, and, two, an appeal of the recent ruling finding the Tongass exemption illegal.

Fair enough. What’s curious is that the new suit raises issues that have been dealt with already in the Ninth Circuit, of which Alaska is a part. Alaska says the rule violates the National Environmental Policy Act. The Ninth Circuit says no. Alaska says the rule violates the. National Forest Management Act and the Forest Service Organic Act. The Ninth Circuit says it doesn’t.

Which may be why the state filed its new lawsuit in Washington, DC, thousands of miles away from the forest and the Ninth Circuit.

What’s really happening here may well be that Alaska knows full well that its legal actions are unlikely to succeed, but that it hopes to kick up enough ruckus that Congress may step in and repeal the Roadless Rule itself. Bills to do just that are in fact pending in the House and Senate. Stay tuned.


And now Sealaska Corporation, is pushing biomass energy because it claims the Roadless Rule "locked up" the forest to development of small hydro resources. They are using the ruling as a red herring because they want a corner-on-the-Tongass-biomass-market by developing a regional biomass plant and getting large scale public buildings like Coast Guard facilities, schools and hospitals converted, thereby creating a demand. The biomass would come from thinning clearcuts on so-called restoration projects, but the architects of the biomass proposal ignore several basic issues like credible carbon accounting. They ignore the monstorous federal subsidies that would be required to maintain a biomass industry on the Tongass. They ignore that the majority of Tongass clearcuts won't be ready to be thinned for many years and cannot sustain a biomass industry. And finally, they ignore the public health hazards associated with burning pellets. I hope Earthjustice and the organizations they represent get out front and counter the push for biomass on the Tongass.

Thanks Earthjustice for staying on top of this and so many other issues. I hope I get to Alaska before it is completely raped by the greedy politicians and corporations.

Unreal. This is like some bad dream that goes on & on. Kudos to Earthjustice for sticking with it!!

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