Federal appeals court upholds Clinton-era “Roadless Rule”

A federal appeals court on Friday upheld the so-called Roadless Rule in a case brought by the State of Wyoming.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling means the controversial decade-old policy, which prevents road construction on certain federal lands, remains in place nationwide.

Wyoming argued that federal agencies violated the 1964 Wilderness Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in implementing the Roadless Rule.

The State of Alaska is currently challenging the rule on two fronts. A lawsuit filed in the District of Columbia argues that the rule itself violated the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act and the Tongass Timber Reform Act. Meanwhile, another suit filed with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals seeks to reverse a lower court ruling that removed an exemption for the Tongass National Forest.

Assistant Alaska Attorney General Tom Lenhart says Friday’s decision won’t stop the state from moving forward with those suits.

“We made some of the same claims that was made by Wyoming. But in addition to that we have ANILCA and we have the Tongass Timber Reform Act, both of which apply only in Alaska,” says Lenhart. “And we feel strongly that the Roadless Rule, in fact, violates both of those federal statutes in Alaska.”

Earthjustice Attorney Tom Waldo says it’s unlikely the D.C. court will overrule the other circuit courts, even when it comes to the Alaska-specific arguments.

“The forest service thoroughly considered the application of those laws when it adopted the Roadless Rule,” says Waldo. “And we’re very confident that for the same reason that the 9th and 10th Circuits have rejected all the other challenges to the Roadless Rule, we think the D.C. court will also reject those Alaska-specific challenges to the Roadless Rule.”

Waldo and Lenhart agree that the 10th Circuit decision shouldn’t have any bearing on the Tongass exemption case, since that’s a separate issue from challenges to the rule as a whole.

Legislation sponsored by Alaska’s Congressional delegation would exempt the entire state from the rule.

The Roadless Rule was implemented in 2001, in the last days of the Clinton Administration. The Obama Administration has defended it.

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