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Court Upholds Public's Democratic Right to Participate in Government

WildEarth Guardians Lawsuit Challenged Uranium Exploration Permitting in New Mexico

Sacramento - A WildEarth Guardians’ legal victory restores the right—and every citizen’s right—to protect the land, water and wildlife. The lawsuit arose, in part, from a permit for uranium exploration on the Cibola National Forest that was exempted from public challenges under a Bush-era rule.  WildEarth Guardians commented on the proposal, but the Forest Service denied the right to administratively challenge the decision. Guardians and a handful of conservation allies with similar experiences across the country, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, challenged the exemption in federal court.

This week, WildEarth Guardians won the decisive lawsuit defending the public’s right to participate in all land management decisions by the U.S. Forest Service. A California district court overturned the 2003 Bush-era rule. This court victory preserves the right—the right of the owners of the national forest system—to challenge the government’s decisions without having to go straight to the courtroom.

“The so-called ‘streamlining’ of government permitting is nothing more than an erosion of our democracy.” Said Bryan Bird, Program Director with WildEarth Guardians. “This court has come down decisively on the side of checks and balances, which make our country a beacon of democracy.”

The Cibola National Forest in central New Mexico was named because it regularly employs the Bush Healthy Forest Initiative-rule baring public appeals of categorical exclusions to approve uranium exploration.  In September 2010, the Forest Service approved the White Mesa Uranium Exploration project, which permitted exploratory drilling for uranium, employing a categorical exclusion.  WildEarth Guardians commented on the proposal and would have appealed this project, but were denied the right under the Forest Service rules, going to court in April 2011.

“We are not going to standby and watch our public lands drilled for uranium without a fight.” Said Bird. “This deadly mineral has a legacy of poisoning people and our environment deserving full transparency.”

The Appeals Reform Act requires that all “proposed actions of the Forest Service concerning projects and activities implementing land and resource management plans” must be subject to public notice, comment, and administrative appeal, yet the challenged regulations illegally exempted all actions that were “categorically excluded.”

Read the court's summary judgment here.


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