President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing with reporters in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, in Washington. Trump said Wednesday he would "listen to both sides" after his eldest son and a campaign adviser urged him to intervene to block a proposed copper and gold mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay region. (AP Photo / Andrew Harnik)

Opinion: The Tongass and Trump’s dishonest, lazy style of governance

Administering NEPA that way is dishonest and lazy

  • Monday, October 5, 2020 3:59pm
  • Opinion

The U.S. Forest Service decision to fully exempt the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule was never in doubt. The writing was on the wall long before the last week’s announcement. By implying otherwise, the Final Environmental Impact Statement makes a mockery of the National Environmental Policy Act.

That’s not surprising though. Because it was done with the same contempt for the truth and democratic processes that Donald Trump has shown throughout his presidency.

That was on full, uncensored display in Tuesday night’s presidential debate. Nothing in the Roadless Rule decision is nearly as alarming as Trump’s blasphemous undermining of the nation’s election integrity, his refusal to agree to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, and his cowardly inability to denounce white supremacists. All of which is enabled by the way Sen. Dan Sullivan and other congressional Republicans refuse to condemn his despicable behavior.

Sullivan, of course, has never been shy about praising the administration’s work when the opportunity arises. “I thank Secretary Perdue, Chief Christiansen, and the Forest Service team for working with Alaskans and reaching this critical stage on the path to a more responsible and workable Roadless Rule” he said in a news release.

Who is he talking about? Certainly not those Alaskans among the 96% of American citizens who commented on the draft EIS. They believed the Roadless Rule should remain in place. The fact that so much opposition was ignored is evidence that the NEPA analysis was written to fit a predetermined outcome.

That’s exactly what the Trump administration did when it tried to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled it violated the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act. The intent of that law is to prevent government agencies from creating regulations that are “arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.”

[Rule recommendation met with both praise and distrust]

Chief Justice John Roberts stated the citizenship question itself didn’t violate the law. However, the Secretary of Commerce responsible for carrying out the census claimed it was being added to help the Department of Justice enforce the Voting Rights Act. That “the sole stated reason” Roberts wrote, “seems to have been contrived.” Because what the Court discovered when it examined the evidence is Commerce first made its decision, then turned to Justice to find a rationale they believed would hold up under scrutiny.

Trump’s termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was similarly rejected by the Supreme Court. Before they ruled, one district judge wrote the administration’s decision for ending the program was “virtually unexplained.” What little explanation they did provide was called “spin” by another judge.

There have been dozens of other cases in which the Trump administration failed to comply with the APA. Many of them deal with his signature effort to roll back environmental regulations promulgated under NEPA. And even though he’s not first president to face such challenges, he’s the only loser among them. Where the others won about 70 percent of their court cases, Trump has lost nine out of ten.

NEPA grew partly from the same government accountability seeds as the APA. Democratic Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington sponsored the first draft of the legislation in 1968. One of his primary objectives was eliminating the waste of taxpayer money caused by two or more federal agencies commencing projects that were in direct conflict with each other.

But where Jackson would have been satisfied accomplishing that through internal government review, Sen. Edmund Muskie, D-Maine, didn’t believe the federal government was capable of policing itself. He insisted transparency and public participation would be vital to compliance with the law’s requirement that government officials be fully informed on the environmental impacts of their decisions.

An outcome that’s been predetermined does the exact opposite. Think of a college professor grading a research paper before it’s been finished. Why bother reading it.

Administering NEPA that way is dishonest and lazy. It’s also meant to discourage public involvement in the process by making it seem like a waste of time. The next stop on the apathy trail is not bothering to vote. The last is an end to government by the people and for the people.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a letter to the editor or My Turn.

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