After losing a court battle in March over a rule revision that favored Bush's friends in the logging, mining and energy-extraction industries, the agency is floating a barely changed version of the same rule and says it will go into effect after a cursory public comment period.
The rule change was adopted by the Forest Service in 2005 with no environmental evaluation and no public input. A federal district court judge ruled that the process violated the requirements set down in the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.
So the Forest Service has drafted an environmental impact statement with five alternatives, none of which vary in substance from the 2005 rule. One of those will be adopted following a 60-day comment period. The Forest Service says its decision will not be subject to judicial review. But it will undoubtedly be challenged again in court, as it should be.
The agency is simply presenting the appearance of following the letter of the law without changing its goal to avoid the substance of environmental protections.
The rule gives broad authority to local Forest Service managers to largely ignore environmental impacts when it decides to allow clear-cutting of forests, mining near streams and commercial activities that disrupt wildlife habitat and migratory routes.
The rule would allow environmental rules to be bent in favor of industry at the expense of publicly owned forests and cut the time for environmental review of such commercial activities by several years.
Courts have slapped the hands of the Bush Forest Service several times for trying to undermine environmental laws. Yet it pushes forward with only one goal: to open access to our forests, the last bastions of solitude and quiet beauty, to industry's noise, pollution and degradation.
The environmental watchdogs who won this battle in March should take it on again. We can't afford to lose this war.