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The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law

U.S. Senator Daines (R-MT) seeks to add a rider on the Farm Bill to take away citizens’ rights to sue the federal government on Forest Service decisions. What he seems to have forgotten is that the U.S. Constitution gives people the absolute right to challenge federal government decisions in court.

The right to challenge unlawful government conduct in a civil lawsuit is one of the only ways that citizens can directly intervene to force the government to follow our laws. So why does Daines want to strip the public of this right? And who will really benefit from this? Not the public. Not the forests. Not the rule of law.

Daines suggests that the public should be forced into “arbitration” instead of challenging unlawful government conduct in court. Daines’ pilot arbitration program is what corporations like Wells Fargo require. Wells Fargo is the bank that illegally opened millions of new accounts for people without their knowledge. They require their customers to challenge their actions through arbitration, rather than lawsuits, which basically means that you don’t get your day in court when the company violates the law. Daines thinks what’s good for Wells Fargo is good for America’s public lands.

The sad truth is that corporations like Wells Fargo require their customers to use arbitration rather than litigation so that they can continue to break the law, and avoid setting judicial precedent that they would have to follow. That is exactly what Daines is attempting to do here by enabling the Forest Service to continue to break the law and avoid setting judicial precedent government agencies would have to follow in future cases. Daines knows that the Forest Service repeatedly breaks the law and is held accountable in court. He also knows it often loses those cases and apparently his “solution” is to destroy the checks and balances the judicial branch exerts over executive branch agencies.

To support the nonexistent need for his amendments, Daines resorts to “alternative facts” claiming that a large number of timber sales are currently challenged in court and stopped by injunctions. But, since it’s fiction, he neglected to provide the names or locations.

Certainly some timber sales have been temporarily stopped by injunction, but the reason for an injunction is always that the government broke the law. Furthermore, the injunction only lasts until the government fixes the timber sale so that it complies with the law. Does Daines believe that the President Trump’s Forest Service is somehow above the law? Would Daines prefer that illegal timber sales that violate the law move forward? Why would Daines believe that normal citizens like you and I have to comply with the law, but the Trump administration does not?

It seems apparent that Daines thinks we should clearcut what’s left of our national forests as quickly as possible. But who does this actually benefit? It certainly doesn’t benefit the public since taxpayers subsidize these money-losing timber sales with millions of public dollars. Nor does it benefit the ecosystems and wildlife — clearcutting thousands of acres and bulldozing new logging roads in our national forests leads to less elk habitat for hunters, fewer clean running streams for native fish, and less habitat for rare and endangered species that call the our national forests home and generates billions from tourism every year. No one wants to hike, fish, or float in clearcuts, and we should do all they can to protect our national forests, these priceless and irreplaceable resources for future generations.

Americans deserve senators who recognizes the importance of intact ecosystems, stands up to the Trump administration’s serial law-breaking and rejects the requests for sweetheart deals from industry lobbyists.

Please join us in our efforts to protect our precious public lands and wildlife, and resist Daines’ and others’ on-going efforts to destroy them. Contact your senators and ask them to oppose Senator Daines’ rider and let them know that the corporate ploy of side-stepping the law through mandatory arbitration is not appropriate for projects on public lands.

Mike Garrity is a fifth-generation Montanan and the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

 

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Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

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