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.