Clinton’s ‘Roadless Rule’ screeches to a halt |

Clinton’s ‘Roadless Rule’ screeches to a halt

Environmentalists claimed victory after a federal judge’s ruling last week that the Bush administration’s repeal of President Clinton’s “Roadless Rule” had itself violated federal law.

But even though the Bush administration lost the case, the ultimate losers are the taxpayers, who see decisions about public lands entangled in endless litigation.

This ball’s many bounces are hard to track, but let’s try.

In President Clinton’s final week in office – more than five and a half years ago – the Forest Service enacted rules that prohibit almost all new road-building on nearly 60 million acres of remote forests. President Bush almost immediately suspended the rules, and they were tied up in litigation as several Western states sued the federal government to block the roadless areas.

After Wyoming convinced a federal judge in 2003 that the Clinton rules violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Bush administration drew up a plan to let each state share in the decision whether to leave the roadless areas intact. (Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked to preserve all of California’s 4.4 million acres.)

It’s sensible enough to give state governments a voice in decisions that affect their residents’ lives and livelihoods, but several states that supported the original Roadless Rule in turn sued the U.S. Forest Service, and on Sept. 27, they won. The judge ruled that the new plan also violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

In brief, various judges say Clinton’s and Bush’s rules both broke the law.

Leave aside for a moment the merits of preserving roadless areas versus allowing commercial uses such as logging. The question hardly matters as long as decisions about public lands – from a small, post-fire salvage sale to nationwide policy questions – inevitably lead straight to the courthouse. And once there the complex requirements of NEPA almost always leave an opening for almost any able plaintiff’s lawyer.

People can disagree about the Roadless Rule, but does anybody think this litigation-induced paralysis is a good way to run a country?

– Redding (Calif.) Record