Let’s review what the Proposed Rule document said about comments on the ANPR (Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) said about those comments.
The Agency published an ANPR on January 3, 2018 (83 FR 302). The Agency received 34,674 comments in response to the ANPR, of which 1,229 were unique. Most of the unique comments expressed support for the Agency’s effort to identify efficiencies in the NEPA process. The unique comments in support of the ANPR all generally acknowledged that there is room for increased efficiency in the Agency’s NEPA process. Some of these comments expressed unqualified support for increasing efficiency; other comments supported the Agency’s goals, but included caveats that these gains should not come at a cost to public involvement or conservation of natural resources.
There were three form letter campaigns in response to the ANPR. Approximately 33,000 form letter comments came from two form letter campaigns, which urged the Forest Service to reject any proposal to weaken the Agency’s NEPA process. The Forest Service received about 600 comments from a third form letter campaign in favor of the Agency’s efficiency goals as stated in the ANPR. The Agency will not regard form letters as ‘‘votes’’ as to whether the proposed rule should go forward.
1200 unique letters may sound like a lot, but my experience with content analysis is that it does provide an opportunity to get your ideas before the people making the decision. The way this usually works is that some group analyzes comments by what they’re about (which part of the proposed regulation), and then staff go in to brief the decision maker, who is likely to consult with interest groups of various kinds, and then makes the calls. If lots of unique letters suggest a change, that is data that may well go to the decision maker.
The more general “don’t cut the public out” “don’t weaken NEPA” are probably not as helpful as recommendations for specific changes. Even people who don’t want category 26 for example, based on wanting more public involvement or analysis, could ask for exactly what about public involvement or analysis they think is missing, and how to bump it up (notice and comment? require the appeal regs apply?). That’s what I tried to do for category 26. Asking the agency to drop the proposal is probably not as helpful.
Here is the link to submit your comments. They are due August 26th, so we have time for more discussion and suggestions. It’s really simple to do, they could listen to you and make a better decision from our comments. I encourage you all to consider doing it, at least for one or two issues of concern or support. One more thing, re: any vitriol about the Forest Service or the Administration. The human being reading the comments doesn’t have any power either and the people with the power generally won’t be reading the comments directly (as opposed to summaries). If you don’t find the argument “don’t say mean things” compelling, remember that taxpayers share in paying for federal employees’ stress as part of their health benefits.
Finally, if you find an interesting idea in other comments you see, again, feel free to post it below.