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Greater Yellowstone Coalition v. Bosworth

Citation: 32 ELR 20681
No. No. 01-1516 (RMU/JMF), 209 F. Supp. 2d 156/(D.D.C., 05/13/2002)

The court holds that the U.S. Forest Service (Forest Service) violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Rescissions Act by reissuing a permit for livestock grazing in the Gallatin National Forest without first conducting a NEPA review. In 1994, the Forest Service implemented a policy to conduct NEPA analyses for the reissuance of grazing permits. Because of the large number of permits issued every year, and in response to the threat that many permits would not be reissued due to the Forest Service's failure to complete NEPA review, the U.S. Congress enacted the Rescissions Act. The Act established a temporary exemption from NEPA review for those permits that were up for reissuance before the NEPA review for that allotment had been completed. Pursuant to the Rescissions Act, the Forest Service set a 1998 NEPA environmental assessment and decision date for the Horse Butte allotment, located in the Gallatin National Forest. The Forest Service missed the 1998 deadline, and in 1999, the date for NEPA review completion of the Horse Butte allotment was moved to 2004. Meanwhile, the Forest Service, again relying on the Recessions Act, reissued a grazing permit for the Horse Butte allotment in December 2000.

The court first holds that the permit was issued illegally because the Rescission Act's plain language indicates without ambiguity that the Forest Service may not amend its schedule for NEPA compliance. Congress did not grant the Forest Service an indefinite time to get the NEPA work done. To the contrary, it insisted that it be done within a certain period of time and that the Forest Service maintain the schedule it set within that period. The court next holds that nullifying the permit does not defeat the legislative purpose of the Rescissions Act. The Act creates a temporary exemption from NEPA and relieves the permittees of harsh consequences only if the Forest Service adopts and adheres to a schedule. Therefore, the permit was vacated.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
James S. Angell
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund
11 E. Main St., Unit C, Bozeman MT 59715
(406) 586-9699

Counsel for Defendants
Martin J. LaLonde
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000