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Battle to Protect 50 Million Forest Acres May Finally Be Won After 16 Years
By Jessica A. Knoblauch
A decades-long fight over a landmark rule protecting wild forests nationwide took another successful–and possibly final–turn last week after a U.S. district court threw out a last-ditch attack by the state of Alaska against the Roadless Rule.
Adopted in the closing days of the Clinton administration, the Roadless Rule prohibits most logging and road construction in roadless areas of national forests. These lands, today equaling about 50 million acres or about the size of Nebraska, are some of the wildest places left in America.
Upon its passage, the rule was overwhelmingly popular with the American people, including those who like to hike, camp, fish and recreate among the trees in wild, unmarred areas. The Forest Service also liked the rule, since, at the time, the agency had a multibillion-dollar backlog on maintenance for more than 400,000 miles of existing roads, and it wasn't eager to add even more to its workload.
Yet, despite its popularity, state political leaders with ties to the logging and timber industries hated the new rule. Even before President Clinton left office, they began their attack. The Bush administration, which took office just eight days later, failed to come to the rule's defense.
"It created this vacuum," said Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo, one of the legal architects of the organization's Roadless Rule strategy. "So Earthjustice stepped in."
Tom Waldo, one of the legal architects of Earthjustice's Roadless Rule strategy, walks through a field of fireweed near Juneau, Alaska.Michael Penn
What followed was a 16-year legal battle involving a number of Earthjustice attorneys from the Denver, Bozeman, Seattle and Juneau offices, dozens of courtrooms and judges, and thousands of hours of legal wrangling.
"When we first started this, it never crossed my mind we would still be litigating the rule 16 years later," said Waldo.
Over the next two decades, three main legal battles emerged over the Roadless Rule. One challenge came from the state of Idaho, which has the most roadless public forest lands of any of the lower 48. The second attack came from the state of Wyoming. Lastly, the state of Alaska challenged the rule.
In addition to these legal attacks, the Bush administration attacked the rule politically, first by exempting the Tongass National Forest from the rule in 2003, and then by repealing the rule nationwide in 2005. The Tongass exemption was a big deal because the Tongass isn't just any old forest. It's America's largest and wildest, home to nearly one-third of all old-growth temperate rainforest remaining in the entire world. Unfortunately, it's also the only national forest in the country where loggers still focus primarily on clear-cutting old-growth forests.
With each challenge, Earthjustice stepped in to vigorously defend the Roadless Rule. In some cases, Earthjustice attorneys and clients were the only ones providing the defense.
"The odds were long that we would win every one of these cases," said Waldo. Still, we had the law and the American people on our side. Earthjustice began to win, one case at a time.
"It was kind of a crescendo," said Waldo.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the state of Idaho in 2002, upholding the Roadless Rule. Then, in 2009, the Ninth Circuit struck down the Bush administration's attempt to repeal the Roadless Rule. In 2011, the Tenth Circuit appeals court ruled against the state of Wyoming, upholding the rule. And in July 2015, after years of Earthjustice litigation, the Ninth Circuit court declared the Tongass exemption illegal.
Last week, the final challenge to the Roadless Rule was shot down, after the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that each of the state of Alaska's claims lacked merit. The state could appeal the decision, or President Trump could try to reverse it. However, because the rule is widely supported, provides immense economic and public benefit and has been upheld by multiple courts at many levels, anyone who tries to get rid of those protections will face an intense uphill legal and political battle.
"When you have this 17-year-long experience of consistently having the courts uphold the rule, it helps build a track record of success and popularity that will hopefully help carry us through any challenges and provide a solid foundation for the rule's continued success," said Waldo.
Mist hangs over the Tongass temperate rain forest in Alaska. The Bush administration tried to undermine the Roadless Rule by exempting the Tongass National Forest from the rule.LEEPRINCE / SHUTTERSTOCK
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‘Companies Should Not Be Allowed to Use Hazardous Ingredients in Products People Use’: Michelle Pfeiffer Speaks Up for Safer Cosmetics
The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.
Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.
The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.
By Julia Conley
Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.
The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.
President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.
"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.