Department of Interior announces e-bike regulations despite lawsuit, conservation concerns

Staff and wire reports

The Department of the Interior on Friday announced that it finalized electric bike (or e-bike) regulations that it says paves the way for land managers to allow more people, especially older Americans and those with physical limitations, to experience bicycling on public lands managed by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.

“Enhancing access to our public lands and expanding recreational opportunities to all Americans is a priority for the Trump Administration,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt said in a release. “The new regulations allow our public land managers to provide e-bike access to bike trails, enhancing the opportunities to utilize our public lands to create life-long memories.”

The final regulations come 13 months after Bernhardt ordered the National Park Service to grant e-bike riders the same access in parks as muscle-powered cyclists.

The policy change toward the end of August 2019 came without public disclosure and without an opportunity for the public to comment on the proposal before it was implemented, moves that appear in conflict with the Code of Federal Regulations. The secretarial order called for the policy to be adopted “unless otherwise prohibited by law or regulation” within two weeks. It also called for public comment, after the fact, some time in the future.

Last December, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a lawsuit to overturn the Interior Department’s move to expand e-bike access in the National Park System.

The 31-page filing, made by PEER with three other conservation groups and two individuals, charged that the decision-making process violated the Administrative Procedures Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The plaintiffs also argued that an advisory committee comprised of industry-friendly representatives met regularly with Interior officials to lobby for the increased access and helped develop the new policy.

Officials with PEER said Friday that Interior’s announcement would not derail the lawsuit.

Concerns ranging from the risks of high-speed e-bikes to visitors and wildlife, spooking horses on mixed-use trails, and degrading the quality of the backcountry experience have not been addressed, the organization said.

“The Park Service’s undue haste resembles an e-bike whizzing by with an irresponsible teenager on the throttle,” PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins said in a release. “Interior and the Park Service realized they were caught with their legal pants down and are scrambling for cover.

“This rule is the product of industry influence having nothing to do with improving the park experience – a topic on which the Park Service has yet to even do a preliminary assessment. Given the major challenges facing a Park Service in the grip of a pandemic, this is a questionable use of its limited regulatory resources.”

Bicycling is an excellent way to experience America’s rich natural heritage, and innovations in e-bike design have opened the possibilities for a greater number of people, particularly for those with limitations stemming from age, illness, disability or fitness, especially in more challenging

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Senator Eyed as Biden Interior Chief Has Conservation Streak

(Bloomberg) — Retiring Senator Tom Udall is leading a short list of candidates to run the Interior Department if Joe Biden wins the presidency next month — a role that would put him to work in a building named for his father.

Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, is a top contender to be Biden’s secretary of the Interior and would consider the role if asked, according to people familiar with the matter who sought anonymity to discuss the personnel search.

Tom Udall wearing a suit and tie: Senate Passes Measure To Limit Trump On Iran That Faces Veto

© Bloomberg
Senate Passes Measure To Limit Trump On Iran That Faces Veto

Senator Tom Udall

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

“It’s hard to find someone who’s been a bigger champion of public lands than Tom Udall, whether you’re talking about in his state, New Mexico, or nationwide, advocating for the Arctic refuge and fighting climate change,” said Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s land protection program. “It’s in his genes.”

Representative Deb Haaland, another Democrat from New Mexico, and Representative Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona who leads the House Natural Resources Committee, also have won praise from environmental groups and been recommended to head the Interior Department.

The agency acts as the nation’s landlord, overseeing grazing, recreation, energy development and other activities on about a fifth of the U.S. The department also is in charge of the national park system and regulates energy development in coastal waters, including offshore wind farms and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tom Udall’s father, Stewart Udall, was Interior secretary from 1961 to 1969 and is credited with a major expansion in federal land protection, including the creation of dozens of wildlife refuges, national parks and recreation areas. He died in 2010, and the agency’s headquarters building in Washington was named for him three months later.

Under President Donald Trump, the Interior Department has encouraged mining and drilling for oil and gas on federal real estate, while creating new hunting and fishing opportunities at wildlife refuges and hatcheries. Under Biden, the department would take a sharp left turn, pivoting to focus aggressively on conservation while clamping down on drilling.

“If we’re going to save the human species and save animal species, we need to take dramatic action,” Udall said Monday, during an online event environmental groups organized to celebrate the lawmaker’s legacy.

Udall spokesman Ned Adriance declined to answer questions about the senator’s potential role as Interior secretary. “Right now, Senator Udall is focused on a strong finish to his Senate term, and he’s also working hard to help the Biden-Harris ticket win New Mexico, win the West and win the election,” Adriance said.

Udall has laid out plans to enlist federal lands in the fight against climate change — transforming the territory into uninterrupted habitat for vulnerable species and a sponge for carbon dioxide instead of a prime U.S. source of fossil fuels and the greenhouse gas emissions that come from burning them.

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New Bill Would Create a Conservation Job Corps Run By Interior and USDA

A legislative proposal unveiled on Tuesday would create a jobs program overseen by the Interior and Agriculture departments to tackle conservation projects. 

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced the “RENEW Conservation Corps Act” to mirror President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps created during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The National Bureau of Economic Research proclaimed in early June that the U.S. economy entered into a recession in February due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Durbin’s bill is one of several introduced over the last few months to create civilian jobs programs for matters such as expanding the public health workforce and safely administering elections during the pandemic. 

“America’s outdoor spaces have provided recreation for generations, and this year we’ve seen how important and valuable they’ve been to countless Americans looking for a respite,” Durbin said in a statement on Wednesday. “This bill is a straightforward approach to creating 1 million jobs that can address maintenance and restoration of our greatest natural resources and recreation areas… [and] is an investment to protect the beauty of America’s natural treasures.”

If enacted, the bill would authorize $55.8 billion over a five-year period for 1 million Americans over the age of 16 to work on conservation projects nationwide. These could involve: planting trees, restoring wildlife habitats and wetlands, controlling invasive species, conducting fish and wildlife surveys, monitoring water quality and other projects deemed necessary by the Interior and USDA secretaries. 

Participants’ terms would be at least 12 weeks, but no more than a year. They would be paid what is “appropriate for the type of work” they do, but no less than $15 per hour and could receive up to a $5,500 credit for post-secondary education and training for future jobs. The bill says that the Interior and USDA secretaries and their program partners must ensure that “participants reflect the demographics of the area” where they are working.

“Access to public and natural spaces is an essential part of our individual and collective health and well-being,” said Jerry Adelmann, president and CEO of Openlands, a conservation organization in the Chicago area. “With the RENEW Conservation Corps Act, we will welcome a new generation of jobs that restore and preserve our natural lands and waters, and create more inclusive and inviting places for all to enjoy and connect with nature.”

The legislation would also create a national council that will meet annually to assess the jobs program and its possible projects. Members will include top officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Bureau of Land Management; Natural Resources Conservation Service; Bureau of Reclamation; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; National Park Service; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Office of Personnel Management; Environmental Protection Agency; Council on Environmental Quality; and the Corporation for National and Community Service. 

The bill was referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. There is not a companion version in the House yet. 

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