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Tongass Forest Exemption From Roadless Rule Moots Alaska Appeal

Nov. 16, 2021, 5:25 PM

Alaska was handed a loss in its legal battle over the Tongass National Forest after the D.C. Circuit ruled Tuesday that the Trump administration’s decision to remove protections for the forest made the state’s claims moot.

The state’s challenge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit centered on the Roadless Rule’s impact on the forest. But the rule no longer applies, following the federal government’s exemption issued in October 2020, the court said.

Alaska argued its case should be allowed to proceed because the rule may be reimposed. The Biden administration has already announced it will try to repeal or replace the exemption, the state said. Still, a ruling here would be advisory, the court said.

It would be “entirely inappropriate” for the court to do what the state suggests and issue an opinion guiding the Department of Agriculture’s rulemaking, the court said.

A decision on whether the federal government will reapply the Roadless Rule to Tongass would require the court to speculate about future actions by policymakers, according to the ruling. If the USDA reverses the exemption, that new regulation will be reviewable, the court said.

In the meantime, the court said it would not “take the ‘wholly novel’ action of ‘reviewing regulations not yet promulgated.”

Alaska also argued that the rule’s ongoing application to Chugach National Forest keeps its case alive. But the state failed to show what harm, if any, it faces due to this fact, Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote for the court. He was joined by Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan and Judge Cornelia T.L. Pillard.

The Alaska Attorney General’s Office represented the state. The Justice Department represented the USDA, which also represented itself.

The case is Alaska v. USDA, D.C. Cir., No. 17-05260, 11/16/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maya Earls in Washington at mearls@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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