Administration Eyes Changes to Green Law; Environmentalists Rap Bush's record.(NATION)

Article excerpt

Byline: Audrey Hudson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The White House is considering changes to an environmental law often used by green groups to block tree thinning in national forests vulnerable to catastrophic wildfires.

The administration wants to ease the red tape and speed up the regulatory process of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires analysis and documentation of decisions leading to timber cuts, river dredging and livestock grazing.

"This is a 30-year-plus-old law, and a lot has changed in information technology and management," said one Bush administration official. It was signed into law by President Nixon in 1970.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality has created a NEPA task force to improve technology and information management, as well as government and public collaboration, during the process that can take over three years for one project.

Environmentalists are skeptical of any review of NEPA and say it is another attempt to roll back protective measures concerning the environment.

"In less than two years, the Bush administration has aggressively undertaken just about every measure possible to roll back these laws in favor of polluting industries and at the expense of public health and the environment," said Mark Helm, spokesman for Friends of the Earth.

"What is abundantly clear is that George Bush can, without a doubt, claim the title as the most anti-environmental president the U.S. has ever endured."

The task force is not addressing changes to relieve what critics describe as "analysis paralysis" in federal agencies, including the Forest Service, where projects are studied to death but never implemented.

However, one official familiar with the task force signaled that those issues could soon come under scrutiny.

"It would not be accurate to say those issues won't be addressed at a later date, they are just not on our radar screen right now," the official said.

Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth told a congressional committee in June that they went through an 800-step process over three years to complete one project.

The Forest Service spends 40 percent of its time and 20 percent of its financial resources - $250 million a year - on planning and process activities, according to the National Association of Public Administration. …