Why should the Conservation Alternative be in theManti-La Sal NF Draft EIS in 2021?
While the Trump Administration has gutted much of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations (the legality of which is currently being litigated), alternatives remain in Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) processes because they are part of the original National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. Thus only Congress would be able to remove consideration and comparison of the potential impacts of alternatives in an EIS.
As the 1979 implementing regulations (amended in 1992) noted regarding alternatives,
“This section is the heart of the environmental impact statement . . . sharply defining the issues and providing a clear basis for choice among options by the decisionmaker and the public.”
Even the 2020 Trump Administration NEPA regulations still require comparison of alternatives (at §1502.14) in EISs:
The alternatives section should present the environmental impacts of the proposed
action and the alternatives in comparative form based on the information and analysis
presented in the sections on the affected environment (§ 1502.15) and the environmental
consequences (§ 1502.16). In this section, agencies shall:
Evaluate reasonable alternatives to the proposed action, and, for alternatives that the agency eliminated from detailed study, briefly discuss the reasons for their elimination.
Discuss each alternative considered in detail, including the proposed action, so that reviewers may evaluate their comparative merits.
Generally, the federal agency (in this case the Manti-La Sal NF, or MLNF) that is undertaking an EIS develops alternatives out of comments provided by the public (including Grand County, other agencies, businesses, scientists, citizens) during a scoping period. But in fact, other agencies and non-government organizations and even individuals can submit comprehensive alternatives that parallel the agency alternatives.
If an alternative is reasonable and different from the agency’s alternative(s), it can be expected to be published and compared to agency alternatives in the Draft and Final EIS. This has happened many times before.
It is important that the Conservation Alternative appear in the Draft EIS because the MLNF will then need to compare the environmental consequences of implementing each of the alternatives. It also allows the public to comment on which pieces of which alternatives they would like to see in the final forest plan.
In its final forest plan (in late 2021?), the MLNF can incorporate pieces from any/all of the alternatives.