Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service

Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service Kristina Alexander Legislative Attorney September 16, 2013 Congressional Research Service 7-5700 www.crs.gov R40131 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service Summary Congress has expressed an interest in the appeals processes of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service because of those processes’ complexity, and because of allegations that the appeals processes have restricted the ability of the agencies to manage the resources under their care. In 2011, Congress changed the project review process from one that provided for automatic stays and multiple levels of review to a pre-decisional objection process (P.L. 112-74, §428). In amending the 1992 Forest Service Decisionmaking and Appeals Reform Act process, Congress aimed to expedite agency review. The changes took effect in March 2013. Administrative appeals are challenges to agency actions that agencies attempt to resolve themselves. Agencies set up hearing processes and regulations to meet the requirements guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—that no person will be deprived of property without the due process of the law. This report describes the appeals processes of the BLM of the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture. These appeals are not all formal adjudicatory proceedings under the Administrative Procedure Act (although some have similar procedures), but are defined primarily by agency regulation. BLM has many different types of administrative appeals. The type of appeal depends, in large part, on the type of action taken by BLM. Decisions regarding land use plans have one type of review that differs slightly for challenges by governors. Decisions regarding minerals, oil and gas, forests, and grazing have different appeals processes, sometimes even having different processes within those categories. Many, but not all, BLM decisions have a final agency review by an appeals board under the Department of the Interior. Sometimes the final review is completed by an Administrative Law Judge. The Forest Service also has multiple types of reviews, although it does not have an appeals board or Administrative Law Judges. For the most part, Forest Service administrative appeals are based on the type of decision being challenged. Forest plans have one process. Projects implementing those plans have a pre-decisional appeal known as an objection. Decisions regarding use and occupancy of forests have yet another appeals process, which differs depending on the level of employee who made the decision being challenged. Congress also has exempted many projects deemed emergency situations from administrative review. Congressional Research Service Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service Contents Background ...................................................................................................................................... 1 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) .............................................................................................. 1 The Agency Structure for Appeals............................................................................................. 1 The Process................................................................................................................................ 2 Land Use Planning Appeals....................................................................................................... 3 Protests ................................................................................................................................ 3 Consistency Review ............................................................................................................ 4 Final Step............................................................................................................................. 4 Appeals of Implementing Decisions.......................................................................................... 5 Forest Management ............................................................................................................. 6 Grazing Actions ................................................................................................................... 6 Minerals (but not Oil and Gas) ............................................................................................ 7 Oil and Gas Development ................................................................................................... 8 BLM Contests............................................................................................................................ 9 Forest Service .................................................................................................................................. 9 Part 219—Appeals of Plans Under the National Forest Management Act .............................. 11 Part 218—Predecisional Administrative Reviews ................................................................... 11 Objections to HFRA Projects ............................................................................................ 12 Objections to Non-HFRA Projects and Activities ............................................................. 13 Emergency Situations ........................................................................................................ 14 Part 215—Appeals of Other Projects Implementing Land and Resource Management Plans ..................................................................................................................................... 15 Part 251—Appeals of Decisions Related to Occupancy and Use of Forests........................... 16 Figures Figure 1. Administrative Appeals of BLM Land Use Plans ............................................................ 5 Figure 2. Administrative Appeals of BLM Forest Management Decisions ..................................... 6 Figure 3. Administrative Appeals of BLM Grazing Decisions ........................................................ 7 Figure 4. Administrative Appeals of BLM Minerals Decisions....................................................... 7 Figure 5. Administrative Appeals of BLM Oil and Gas Decisions—Lease Sale Issues .................. 8 Figure 6. Administrative Appeals of BLM Oil and Gas Decisions.................................................. 9 Figure 7. Administrative Appeals of Title Disputes ......................................................................... 9 Figure 8. Administrative Appeals Under Part 219 ......................................................................... 11 Figure 9. Administrative Appeals of Projects Under HFRA.......................................................... 13 Figure 10. Administrative Appeals of Non-HFRA Projects........................................................... 14 Figure 11. Administrative Appeals Under Part 215 ....................................................................... 15 Figure 12. Administrative Appeals Under Part 251 of Forest Service Chief Decisions ................ 17 Figure 13. Administrative Appeals Under Part 251 of District Ranger Decisions ........................ 18 Figure 14. Administrative Appeals Under Part 251 of Forest Supervisor or Regional Forester Decisions ....................................................................................................... 18 Congressional Research Service Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service Tables Table 1. Forest Service Appeal Deciding Officers ......................................................................... 16 Appendixes Appendix. Glossary of Acronyms .................................................................................................. 19 Contacts Author Contact Information........................................................................................................... 19 Acknowledgments ......................................................................................................................... 19 Congressional Research Service Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service Background The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service have similar management responsibilities for their lands, and many key issues affect both agencies’ lands.1 By law, BLM and Forest Service lands are to be administered for multiple uses, although slightly different uses are specified for each agency. In practice, the lands of the agencies are used for recreation, grazing, timber, minerals, watershed, wildlife and fish, and conservation. Most rangelands are managed by the BLM, and the BLM administers mineral development on all federal lands. Most federal forests are managed by the Forest Service. Despite the many parallels, the administrative appeal structures for the two agencies are not the same—an appeal of a BLM timber sale is different from an appeal of a Forest Service timber sale. In fact, the administrative appeals are not even the same within the same agency, but change depending on the type of agency decision or type of resource. Neither agency has a statutory mandate to provide formal adjudications on the record for its agency decisions. Accordingly, their appeals processes are not defined by the Administrative Procedure Act, which would require an administrative law judge to preside over a hearing conducted on the record.2 Instead, regulations describe the appeals, and, in the case of the Forest Service, statutes dictate the processes. Congress has a continued interest in agency management, especially to the extent that public participation may be thwarted by confusing administrative processes. Additionally, some have claimed that the appeals process is burdensome, asking Congress to eliminate portions of it. Congress has acted to address administrative appeals on at least three occasions: in 1992 when it established a Forest Service appeals process by statute;3 in 2003, when it directed a new appeals process for the Forest Service for hazardous fuel reduction projects;4 and in 2011, when it directed a predecisional objection process for projects and activities implementing land management plans.5 This report uses a number of acronyms and abbreviations. For the reader’s convenience, a glossary of acronyms is provided at the end of this report. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) The Agency Structure for Appeals The Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) oversees the Department of the Interior’s (DOI’s) administrative appeals. OHA was created in 1970 to consider appeals related to contracts, public 1 For more information on the agencies’ management responsibilities, see CRS Report RL33792, Federal Lands Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service (FS): Issues for the 110th Congress. 2 5 U.S.C. §554(a): “This section applies, according to the provisions thereof, in every case of adjudication required by statute to be determined on the record after opportunity for an agency hearing [with certain exceptions].” 3 Forest Service Decisionmaking and Appeals Reform Act (ARA), P.L. 102-381, §322; 16 U.S.C. §1612 note. 4 Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-148); 16 U.S.C. §§6511-6518. 5 Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-74, §428) (Dec. 23, 2011). Congressional Research Service 1 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service land, and Indian lands. This report will discuss only those appeals related to public lands. This report follows the definition of public lands in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) (43 U.S.C. §§1701-1712): any lands outside of Alaska owned by the United States and administered by the Secretary of the Interior through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), except lands held for the benefit of Indians. (Different procedures apply to BLM lands in Alaska and those held for the benefit of Indians.) OHA is divided into two principal components: the appeals boards and the hearings division. The appeals board for public lands disputes is the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA or the Board). The Board is the final step for most challenges of BLM agency actions (as distinguished from those based on land use plans).6 The Board is made up of Administrative Judges, which are distinct from Administrative Law Judges (ALJs). The BLM Director is an ex officio7 member. A majority of the Administrative Judges on the Board must agree for a decision to pass. The BLM Director may “participate” in the appeal, but the regulations do not indicate that the Director has a vote.8 The hearings division consists of ALJs, and is used where the law or the regulations allow or require an ALJ. For example, grazing challenges are reviewed by an ALJ before the Board’s review, and challengers of certain oil and gas decisions have the option to seek an ALJ review. These two processes will be discussed in detail later in this report (see “Grazing Actions” and “Oil and Gas Development”). BLM officials also have authority to review disputes, typically at the early levels of a challenge. They include Deciding Officials, State Directors, and the Director of BLM. The Process BLM has different administrative review processes for different types of resources at issue— forests, grazing, oil and gas, and minerals—and for disputes based on a land use plan. When development of a land use plan is the basis of a challenge, there is one appeals path, regardless of the resource. However, when the challenge is to a decision implementing those plans, BLM has provided different types of reviews.9 To explain the BLM appeals process, each of these administrative reviews must be examined separately. BLM regulations provide for different types of challenges with different names. This report will use the terms as they are used in the regulations. Even though each of these challenges is an appeal of some sort (meaning it is seeking the reversal of a decision), the term appeal will be used only for challenges brought to the Board or an ALJ. The term protest applies only to those challenges brought before the BLM Director. A request for review applies to certain mineral and oil and gas challenges brought to a State Director. A contest is only that type of challenge 6 43 C.F.R. §4.1(b)(3): “The Board is the final agency decision maker for the following issues ... (a) the use and disposition of public lands and their resources and the use and disposition of mineral resources in certain acquired lands of the United States and in the submerged lands of the Outer Continental Shelf.... ” See also 43 C.F.R. §4.403: “A decision of the Board shall constitute final agency action and be effective upon the date of issuance.... ”; 112 Departmental Manual (DM) 13.9. The decisions of the Board are available on Lexis, Westlaw, or via the DOI online at http://www.oha.doi.gov/IBLA/findingIBLA.html. 7 By virtue of his or her office. 8 43 C.F.R. §4.2.(b). 9 According to the BLM Land Use Planning Handbook, an implementing decision is generally BLM’s final approval allowing an on-the-ground action to proceed. p. 29. Congressional Research Service 2 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service provided for under 43 C.F.R. Section 4.450, as explained below. The term challenge will be used generally to describe any of the above actions. The regulations define who may bring an appeal. Generally, a person who has “participated in the process leading to the decision under appeal” may bring a challenge.10 However, there are numerous exceptions that will be discussed later in this report. Land Use Planning Appeals Land use planning is the process by which BLM determines how federal lands will be used according to FLPMA. Land use plans are developed by BLM to ensure that federal lands are managed under the principles of multiple use and sustained yield.11 FLPMA states that the appeals process for those plans should ensure third party participation,12 and makes reference to notice and hearing regarding revocations of use and occupancy permits,13 but otherwise imposes no procedure for appeals.14 According to the BLM Land Use Planning Handbook, land use plans have two purposes: to establish goals and objectives for resource management; and to establish the measures needed to achieve those goals and objectives.15 The plans establish allowable uses, and those uses are put into effect by implementing decisions. Only the challenges to the implementing decisions involve the OHA; challenges of land use plans are not brought before an ALJ or the IBLA, but are ultimately decided by the Director of BLM. Protests Challenges to land use plans are termed protests. The protest process is provided for in 43 C.F.R. Sections 1610.5-1 and 1610.5-2. The process begins with publication of a proposed land use plan in the Federal Register. The publication will give information on how to file a protest of that plan with the BLM Director. The protest must be filed within 30 days of publication.16 According to the BLM Handbook, the protest is reviewed by the State Office to see if it was filed by a party with standing. To have standing to protest a land use decision, a person must show an interest that was or may be harmed by the land use decision. Additionally, the protesting party must have participated in the planning process in some way, for example, by submitting written comments or attending a public meeting.17 To make a valid protest, the issues must have been raised on the record during the planning process, although they can have been raised by another party. This ensures that BLM has had a chance to consider an issue, so that the challenge is genuinely of a decision BLM made, rather than an item BLM had not known about. 10 43 C.F.R. §4.410(a). 43 U.S.C. §1701(a)(7). 12 43 U.S.C. §1701(a)(5): “[Congress declares it is the policy of the United States] to structure adjudication procedures to assure adequate third party participation, objective administrative review of initial decisions, and expeditious decisionmaking.” FLPMA does provide for an APA hearing regarding easements. 13 43 U.S.C. §1732(c). 14 43 U.S.C. §1766 15 Handbook, p. 11. 16 43 C.F.R. §1610.5-2(a)(1). 17 Handbook Appx. E, p. 5. 11 Congressional Research Service 3 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service The protest is reviewed by the Director of BLM, although in practice this authority has been delegated to the Assistant Director. The BLM Director must consider whether the land use plan complied with established procedure, the relevant information, and whether it is “consistent with BLM policy regulation, and statute.”18 The BLM Director is authorized to dismiss the protest or remand it to the State Director to correct any problems discovered. If the issue is remanded, it may be subject to a new review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)19 and a new protest period upon revision, depending on the significance of the remanded matter, ranging from the plan’s lacking complete information to the plan’s violating existing laws.20 BLM’s stated goal is that all protests will be resolved within 90 days.21 Consistency Review A separate avenue is provided for governors to challenge a proposed plan if it is not consistent with state, local, and tribal laws, policies, and procedures. Governors may submit a response based on consistency to the BLM State Director within 60 days.22 If it is not resolved at that level, the governor may appeal to the Director of BLM within 30 days.23 The Director will review the governor’s comments to see if they “provide for a reasonable balance between the national interest and the State’s interest.”24 The regulations do not provide for a stay during the time the governor’s consistency review is being considered. The Director’s determination on state consistency will be published in the Federal Register.25 After the protests and any consistency issues are resolved, BLM may issue a record of decision, which is the final agency action under the process established by NEPA. Challenges based on the record of decision would go directly to federal district court and not through an agency appeal process. Final Step Land use planning challenges do not advance to the Board. The final agency decision maker is the Director of BLM.26 Any challenge of the Director’s decision would be made in federal court. 18 Handbook, Appx. E, p. 1. 42 U.S.C. §§4321-4347). 20 See Handbook, Appx. E, pp. 2, 6-7. 21 BLM Land Use Planning Handbook, H-1601-1, Appx. E, p. 1 (March 3, 2005) (hereinafter Handbook), online at http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/wo/Information_Resources_Management/policy/ blm_handbook.Par.38665.File.dat/h1601-1.pdf. 22 43 C.F.R. §1610.3-2(e). 23 For example, Governor Kulongoski of Oregon filed an appeal on Dec. 8, 2008, with BLM challenging the consistency of the Western Oregon Plan Revision that designated how BLM’s forests in Oregon would be managed. 24 43 C.F.R. §1610.3-2(e). 25 See, e.g., Notice of BLM Director’s Response to an Appeal From the Governor of New Mexico, 70 Fed. Reg. 3550 (Jan. 25, 2005). 26 43 C.F.R. §1610.5-2(b). 19 Congressional Research Service 4 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service Figure 1. Administrative Appeals of BLM Land Use Plans Source: Bureau of Land Management. As mentioned above, the protest process for land use plan decisions is different from the administrative appeal for implementing decisions, such as timber sales, oil and gas lease sales, and grazing decisions. It is not uncommon for BLM to combine the two decisions in one effort— this would have the benefit of using one combined NEPA review. When it does so, however, BLM is required to identify which decisions are land use plan decisions, and thus subject to protests under the planning regulations, and which are implementation decisions that have separate appeals regulations.27 In the alternative, two decision documents can be used. Appeals of Implementing Decisions In broad strokes, the BLM appeals process for implementing decisions consists of two steps: a challenge to an agency action, which is reviewed by an agency official; and then an appeal, which is reviewed by the Interior Board of Land Appeals, or the Director of the BLM. Upon the decision by the Board or the Director, the challenger may take the issue to federal court. Administrative remedies for implementing decisions provide for an internal agency review before the challenge can advance. The first step in the process is filing a protest or a request for review, which is reviewed by the deciding official of BLM, in many cases the State Director. This gives the agency the chance to review the issues before the matter is brought before the Board. If the challenging party is not satisfied with the result of the deciding officer’s decision, an appeal can be brought to the IBLA. Challenges before the Board are trial-type proceedings, with the presentation of evidence and witnesses. Some challenges are brought before an administrative law judge (ALJ) who is isolated from the decision-making area of the agency.28 An ALJ functions as an independent, impartial trier of fact, similar to a judge.29 Review of a Board or ALJ decision is by a federal court. There are exceptions to this general process, which shall be discussed during the review of the individual categories. 27 Handbook, p. 30. One requirement of FLPMA is that the administration of public lands include an “objective administrative review of initial decisions.” 43 U.S.C. §1701(a)(5). 29 For more on ALJs, see CRS Report RL34607, Administrative Law Judges: An Overview, by Daniel T. Shedd. 28 Congressional Research Service 5 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service Forest Management Approximately 69 million acres of the land managed by BLM is forested, although some of this land is designated wilderness.30 Forest management decisions include timber sales, thinning projects, and other actions that affect forest conditions. These decisions are published in local newspapers in the area of the affected lands. Protests of forest management decisions must be filed within 15 days of either the notice of decision or notice of sale.31 An appeal following an adverse protest decision must be filed within 30 days of issuance of the letter denying the protest. Unlike challenges for other types of actions, filing a protest does not automatically suspend a forest management decision.32 A stay must be requested. Filing a request for a stay with the Board gives the appellant an automatic 45-day stay. The decision to grant a stay is based on the appellants’ being able to prevail on the merits; stays are customarily granted, but are not automatic beyond the initial 45 days. Some factors in determining whether a stay should be granted are whether the stay is in the public interest, what the balance of harms is in granting the stay, and the likelihood of immediate and irreparable harm. The regulations impose deadlines for the Board to decide issues regarding wildfire management made under either forests or grazing regulations. The regulations require the Board to decide appeals within 60 days after all pleadings have been filed, which cannot be greater than 180 days after the appeal was filed.33 Figure 2. Administrative Appeals of BLM Forest Management Decisions Source: Bureau of Land Management. Grazing Actions Challenges of grazing actions still begin with a protest that is reviewed by the deciding official, but they have an additional level of review, which occurs after the deciding official issues a decision. Protests must be filed within 15 days after receipt of a proposed decision, copies of which are sent to the affected applicant, permittee, lessee, agents, lien holders, and members of the interested public.34 A proposed decision may pertain to leases, applications, or range improvement permits. If there is no protest, the proposed decision becomes final and is subject to the next steps of the appeals process. If the protesting party is dissatisfied with the proposed decision (or the proposed decision becomes final without a protest), the next step is an appeal reviewed by an ALJ, which must be brought within 30 days of the final decision.35 The appeal 30 BLM Forest Lands Report: 2006 Status and Conditions, BLM/ST/ST-07/001+5000, online at http://www.fs.fed.us/ rm/pubs_other/rmrs_2006_bottomley_t001.pdf. 31 43 C.F.R. §5003.3. 32 43 C.F.R. §5003.1. 33 43 C.F.R. §4.421. 34 43 C.F.R. §4160.1. 35 43 C.F.R. §4.470(a). Congressional Research Service 6 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service does not automatically stay the proceeding; a stay must be requested.36 If the protesting party still is not satisfied, another appeal is allowed to the Board. This can be an appeal of a denial of a stay, or an appeal on the merits.37 Further recourse is through the federal courts. When stays are issued, the grazing permits or leases in effect before the new decision are applicable until the dispute is resolved.38 If the stay is being disputed on appeal, the matter before the ALJ is not suspended unless ordered by the Board or the court.39 Figure 3. Administrative Appeals of BLM Grazing Decisions Source: Bureau of Land Management. Minerals (but not Oil and Gas) The minerals appeals process applies to all minerals—locatable, leasable, or saleable—except oil and gas. For surface management issues, such as operation or reclamation permitting disputes, the process begins not with a protest, as for the other challenges, but with a request for review made to the State Director. The State Director has discretion whether to accept the review. If an adverse finding is made, the appeal is brought to the Board. In instances where the administrative record is not clear and a factual determination must be made, the Board will refer the action to an ALJ for a hearing.40 Otherwise, the Board makes its determination. The ALJ decision may be appealed to the Board. The Board’s decision is the BLM’s final action and may be challenged in federal court. Figure 4. Administrative Appeals of BLM Minerals Decisions Excluding Oil and Gas Source: Bureau of Land Management, with revisions by Congressional Research Service. 36 43 C.F.R. §4.471. A petition for a stay is filed, not with the ALJ, but with the BLM field office that issued the decision. 37 43 C.F.R. §4.478. 38 43 C.F.R. §4160.4(b). 39 43 C.F.R. §4.478(d). Smithsfork Grazing Ass’n v. Salazar, 564 F.3d 1210 (10th Cir. 2009) (burden of proof is on challenger to obtain stay). 40 43 C.F.R. §4.415. Congressional Research Service 7 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service Oil and Gas Development Oil and gas development has a different appeals process than for other minerals. There are two routes, depending on the stage at which the BLM decision was made. Challenges based on a lease sale follow the two-step protest route: a protest is made to the State Director,41 and an appeal of the State Director’s decision is made to the Board. Appeals may be filed by lessees, bidders on the lease, and interested third parties. The Board’s decision is reviewable by a federal court. Figure 5. Administrative Appeals of BLM Oil and Gas Decisions—Lease Sale Issues Source: Bureau of Land Management. A challenge to BLM actions made after the lease is sold at auction is termed a request for review. The term request for review is not defined within the regulations, and it does not appear to have a substantive meaning distinct from a protest, although procedurally, in some circumstances, a request for review could go to an ALJ, rather than the Board. A request for review is made to the State Director within 20 days of the notice of the adverse decision.42 Requests are generally based on a technical aspect of the drilling program, such as challenging a decision based on an application for a permit to drill (APD).43 Also, requests for review may be made where penalties are imposed by BLM for failure to meet the terms of a permit, where an application has been made to modify the royalty provision of the lease, or for an application for relief from operating and producing requirements.44 Requests for reviews based on proposed penalties have different options than for other issues.45 Parties contesting a notice of proposed penalty may challenge the State Director’s decision by going either to an ALJ, for a hearing on the record,46 or to the IBLA. Appeals of decisions on other issues go only to the IBLA. The ultimate review of a decision by either the ALJ or the Board is by a federal court. 41 43 C.F.R. §4.410. 43 C.F.R. §3165.3(b). 43 If a challenge is made by a third party to an APD, for example disputing the location of the well, that challenge is a protest, not a request for review. 44 43 C.F.R. Part 3165. 45 43 C.F.R. §3165.3(c). 46 The Federal Oil and Gas Royalty Management Act provides that no civil penalty can be imposed without the opportunity for a hearing on the record. 30 U.S.C. §1719(e). 42 Congressional Research Service 8 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service Figure 6. Administrative Appeals of BLM Oil and Gas Decisions For Challenges Regarding Administration of the Lease After the Sale Source: Congressional Research Service. BLM Contests Certain types of actions challenging BLM decisions are termed contests, rather than appeals. Contests occur in three situations: title and patent disputes over lands; mineral claims validity; or certain grazing issues regarding trespass of cattle. The distinction from a protest is that a person making a contest is asserting title to or an interest in land adverse to any other person claiming title or interest, as opposed to challenging a decision of the agency.47 The regulations for contests are found at 43 C.F.R. Section 4.450. The contest process is similar to the appeals process, except that there is no lower-level review, such as by the State Director. The action is brought directly before an ALJ for a formal hearing. Review of an ALJ decision is before the Board. Board decisions may be challenged in federal court. Figure 7. Administrative Appeals of Title Disputes Source: Congressional Research Service. Forest Service The Forest Service also has different appeals processes based on the type of action that is being appealed. Unlike the BLM, the Forest Service does not have a distinct body like the IBLA to hear appeals, and generally, the path for appeals has fewer steps. Many final decisions are made by the agency after the initial challenge and offer no additional agency review, meaning the next step is federal court. A challenge to a decision is termed an appeal, although where the review is made before a decision is final, the challenge is called an objection. Reviews of objections are known as predecisional, as a final agency decision is issued only after the objection has been considered. 47 43 C.F.R. §4.450-1. Congressional Research Service 9 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service The Forest Service has had an appeals process in place since 1906.48 That process has evolved significantly in the last two decades. In 1992, in response to a regulatory effort to limit appeals, Congress enacted the Forest Service Decisionmaking and Appeals Reform Act (ARA) in the FY1993 Interior appropriations act (P.L. 102-381, §322; 16 U.S.C. §1612 note), creating a statutorily mandated appeals process for land and resource management plans. The statutory mandate came two decades after the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 required public input into forest plans.49 The Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 200350 (HFRA) and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 201251 modified ARA for forest projects by abbreviating the appeals process. Appeals are based on the type of Forest Service action in dispute. They are divided based on whether they challenge forest management plans for each forest (called land and resource management plans (LRMPs) or Forest Plans), a project or activity implementing those plans, or the use and occupancy of a forest. Four different regulatory sections in Title 36 C.F.R. provide for appeals: Parts 215, 218, 219, and 251. Appeals under Part 219 are made for challenges to LRMPs. If a project decision, rather than a plan, is being challenged, an appeal is brought under Part 218.52 An exception to that is when a non-HFRA project decision was based on a categorical exclusion under NEPA, in which case Part 215 applies.53 Where the challenge is about using the forests, such as via a special use permit, Part 251 applies. Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, in an emergency, no appeal is available for project decisions except for “authorized hazardous fuel reduction projects under HFRA,” which the statute specifically excludes.54 For appeals made under Parts 218 or 219, the final appeals determination is made by the Reviewing Officer.55 If the project decision was made by the Chief of the Forest Service, the Reviewing Officer is either the Secretary of Agriculture or the Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment.56 For other project decisions, the Reviewing Officer is the person ranking next in line above the deciding official, unless another delegation has been made.57 48 See 56 Fed. Reg. 17310 (May 16, 1988) (“the agency, since 1906, has provided some kind of process by which grievances related to contracts and authorized uses could be heard and settled and by which the general public could challenge decision of forest officers”). 49 P.L. 93-378; 16 U.S.C. §1604. 50 P.L. 108-148; 16 U.S.C. §§6511-6518. 51 P.L. 112-74, §428; 125 Stat. 1046. 52 However, Part 215 appeals would apply to projects with notices of how to appeal published prior to the effective date of the Part 218 revision (March 27, 2013), providing that the decision notice or record of decision was signed by September 27, 2013. 36 C.F.R. §218.16(b). 53 36 C.F.R. §218.20 (“[these provisions] are specific to proposed projects and activities implementing land and resource management plans and documented with a Record of Decision or Decision Notice”). 54 P.L. 112-74, §428; 36 C.F.R. §218.21. 55 36 C.F.R. Parts 218, 219. 56 36 C.F.R. §218.3(a); 36 C.F.R. §219.62. 57 Id. Congressional Research Service 10 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service Part 219—Appeals of Plans Under the National Forest Management Act The National Forest Management Act (NFMA) requires the Forest Service to produce Forest Plans for units of the National Forest System.58 Forest Plans are required to be revised at least every 15 years and address all aspects of forest stewardship. Two sets of regulations were promulgated under the NFMA, first under Part 217 (finalized December 9, 2000), and then in 2008, Part 219, which replaced Part 217. The regulations in Part 219 provide for predecisional objections. They are termed predecisional because even though a plan has been produced, it is not yet final. The Responsible Official publishes a notice of the availability of a proposed plan, providing 30 days for serving an objection. The Reviewing Officer determines whether an objection has merit.59 The decision of the Reviewing Officer is the final review within the Forest Service.60 Further challenges based on the objection must be made in federal court. If the Reviewing Officer decides the objection has merit, the forest plan is revised. The regulations provide for a 30-day objection period for plan revisions, suggesting a subsequent predecisional review is available.61 Figure 8. Administrative Appeals Under Part 219 Challenges of Forest Plans Under NFMA Source: Congressional Research Service. In some cases, appeals challenging a plan, which are typically brought under Part 219, overlap with objections under Part 218. The overlap occurs when a plan amendment is approved at the same time as a project or activity decision and the plan amendment applies just to that project or decision. Part 218 applies in such cases.62 Part 218—Predecisional Administrative Reviews When the Forest Service approves projects and activities that implement LRMPs (such as timber sales), it does so in conjunction with the review process under NEPA. This leads to three types of decision documents from the Forest Service: a decision memorandum that follows a categorical exclusion (CE) under NEPA; a decision notice that follows an EA; and a record of decision following an EIS. Predecisional appeals are available for such projects. These challenges are 58 16 U.S.C. §§1601-1606. 36 C.F.R. §219.13(c). 60 36 C.F.R. §219.13(c)(2). 61 36 C.F.R. §219.13(a). 62 36 C.F.R. §218.22(c). 59 Congressional Research Service 11 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service known as objections, and are made after notice of completion of an environmental document under NEPA, but before the final agency decision is made.63 Projects and activities may fall into two categories: those authorized under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA), and non-HFRA projects. The objection processes, explained below, are slightly different. Part 218 limits who can object. Only parties who submitted comments specific to the proposed project, either during scoping or during any comment period that is available, may file an objection.64 Those parties are known as objectors. Objections are filed with the Reviewing Officer, who may be the immediate supervisor of the Responsible Official.65 After filing a challenge, an objector may request a meeting to discuss the issues, and the regulations suggest that the Reviewing Officer may refuse a meeting only if there is not adequate time within the review period to have the meeting.66 Those meetings are open to the public. The decision of the Reviewing Officer is not reviewable within the agency. That means any additional challenge would have to be brought in federal court. The regulations describe the limited judicial review, which requires exhaustion of administrative remedies. According to Section 218.14, any judicial challenge of a project is “premature and inappropriate” unless written comments were submitted to the agency during scoping or other public comment periods. Judicial review is then limited to only those issues raised during the objection process, except in exceptional circumstances. Objections to HFRA Projects Part 218, which was originally promulgated in 2004, applies to the limited administrative review for hazardous fuel reduction projects (HFRPs) defined in HFRA.67 Part 218 was revised in 2013, with subparts (A) and (C) applying to HFRA projects. HFRA provides a predecisional review process for projects made under the act. However, it is not the only method under which the Forest Service may remove hazardous fuels. Similar projects may be undertaken under authority other than HFRA. The distinction between HFRA and non-HFRA projects mattered more before the Part 215 appeals process was virtually harmonized with the Part 218 objection process via P.L. 112-74, Section 428 (see below). However, once the Forest Service has chosen whether the project is conducted under HFRA, challenges must be based on that part.68 Challenges to HFRPs under Part 218 are known as objections. The objections are predecisional, similar to the process under Part 219. The predecisional objection occurs after completion of the final environmental document—either an environmental assessment (EA) or an environmental impact statement (EIS) under NEPA69—but before the final agency action (a decision notice or 63 36 C.F.R. Part 218. 36 C.F.R. §218.7(a). 65 36 C.F.R. §218.2. 66 36 C.F.R. §218.11(a). 67 16 U.S.C. §§6501 et seq. 68 36 C.F.R. §218.1. See “Objections to Non-HFRA Projects and Activities,” below, for discussion how P.L. 112-74, §428 will change Part 215 appeals. 69 According to Section 218.3, only HFRPs that were analyzed under an EA or an EIS are subject to the objection process. 64 Congressional Research Service 12 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service record of decision) for the project. Upon completion of the EA or EIS, the Forest Service publishes legal notice of the opportunity to object.70 This starts the 30-day period during which an objection may be filed.71 Because NEPA does not require a comment period for EAs, the objection time may be the first opportunity for the public to provide input on HFRPs. Once the final agency action has been taken, there is no administrative review.72 Figure 9. Administrative Appeals of Projects Under HFRA Source: Congressional Research Service. Note: 36 C.F.R. subparts A and C. Some HFRPs are exempt from even the predecisional objections. Under Section 218.4, if no comments were received on the project, no objections will be accepted. This situation will be noted in the record of decision or the decision notice by the Responsible Official. The implementing regulations in Part 218 also carve out an exception to the Part 219 regulations regarding appeals to land management plans, which are discussed above. According to the Forest Service, non-significant amendments to a land management plan, when approved for a specific HFRA project at the same time the project decision is made, should be subject to the predecisional review process. This is consistent with the administrative review of nonsignificant amendments associated with non-HFRA projects (36 CFR part 215) and the objection process under the planning regulations at 36 CFR part 219.73 Objections to Non-HFRA Projects and Activities As part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, Congress directed the Forest Service to use a predecisional objection process for projects and activities implementing LRMPs in place of the appeals process established by ARA.74 The law provides that upon issuance of final regulations, appeals of projects implementing LRMPs will follow a predecisional objection process. The final regulations were issued March 27, 2013.75 Essentially, the Part 215 appeals described in Figure 11 below were replaced by the process in Figure 9. Projects that once could be appealed 70 Efforts to have notice posted on the Internet, in addition to being published in a local newspaper, were rejected by the Forest Service, despite the agency’s having noted that this method of publication had been adequate since 1993. 73 Fed. Reg. at 53708. 71 36 C.F.R. §218.2: definition of Objection Period. 72 36 C.F.R. Part 218. 73 73 Fed. Reg. 53707 (Sept. 17, 2008). 74 P.L. 112-74, §428. It did not repeal the notice and comment sections of ARA. 75 78 Fed. Reg. 18481 (March 27, 2013). Congressional Research Service 13 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service using a process with automatic stays and reviews by multiple officials are now reviewed under a one-step process that must be initiated within 45 days of notice of a final environmental document. The reviewing officer must submit a written reply to all objections within 45 days after the objection period ends (i.e., 90 days after the legal notice of decision is published).76 The change could speed projects to completion by limiting the opportunity to appeal. The change also appears to shorten the path for objecting parties to bring suit in federal court. The regulations do not apply to projects that have a CE as the environmental document.77 Figure 10. Administrative Appeals of Non-HFRA Projects Source: Congressional Research Service. Note: 36 C.F.R. subparts A and B. The regulations limit who might bring an objection to those who have submitted a comment78 and establish comment periods for EAs and draft EISs.79 Comments must be submitted within 45 days of a draft EIS to be eligible.80 There is no required comment period for a draft EA. Instead, the 30-day comment period for EAs commences at the same time that the 45-day period begins for submitting objections.81 Emergency Situations Congress eliminated agency review of decisions for emergency situations in Section 428 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012.82 The regulations define emergency situations broadly as follows: A situation on National Forest System (NFS) lands for which immediate implementation of a decision is necessary to achieve one or more of the following: Relief from hazards threatening human health and safety; mitigation of threats to natural resources on NFS or adjacent lands; avoiding a loss of commodity value sufficient to jeopardize the agency’s ability to accomplish project objectives directly related to resource protection or restoration.83 Only non-HFRA projects qualify as emergency situations, as the statute explicitly excludes HFRPs.84 76 36 C.F.R. §218.26. 36 C.F.R. §218.20. See also 77 Fed. Reg. at 47339 (“the Department ... reserves and defers promulgation of regulations addressing categorically excluded projects and activities”). 78 36 C.F.R. §218.5(a). 79 36 C.F.R. §218.25. 80 Id. 81 Id. 82 P.L. 112-74, §428. 36 C.F.R. §218.21. 83 36 C.F.R. §218.21(b). 84 P.L. 112-74, §428. 77 Congressional Research Service 14 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service Part 215—Appeals of Other Projects Implementing Land and Resource Management Plans Part 215 appeals apply to LRMP projects or activities that are neither a HFRA project nor documented by a decision notice or record of decision.85 Regulations at 36 C.F.R. Part 215 were promulgated under the Forest Service Decisionmaking and Appeals Reform Act (ARA),86 as revised by the Forest Service in response to the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA)87 and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 201288 (see above). ARA gives challengers 45 days from the date of a decision to bring an appeal, and allows an automatic stay of the project pending appeal.89 The regulations allow only parties who have made substantive comments during the comment period to submit an appeal.90 Figure 11. Administrative Appeals Under Part 215 Challenges of Project Decisions Source: Congressional Research Service. Appeals are made to the Appeal Deciding Officer. That officer is the immediate supervisor of the official who implemented the decision, the Responsible Official.91 (See Table 1, below.) Thus, the Appeal Deciding Officer can range from a Forest Supervisor to the Secretary of Agriculture.92 Even though the Responsible Official does not decide the appeal, that person may conduct an 85 36 C.F.R. §§218.20, 218.30. Part 215 appeals also would apply to projects with notices of how to appeal published prior to the effective date of the Part 218 revision (March 27, 2013), providing that the decision notice or record of decision was signed by September 27, 2013. 36 C.F.R. §218.16(b). 86 16 U.S.C. §1612 note. 87 16 U.S.C. §§6501 et seq. The changes were challenged in court, but ultimately left in place by the U.S. Supreme Court. Earth Island v. Pengilly, 276 F. Supp. 2d 994 (E.D. Cal. 2005), remanded in part sub nom., Earth Island Institute v. Ruthenbeck, 490 F.3d 687 (9th Cir. 2007) (holding that regulatory changes eliminating appeals violated the ARA), rev’d in part sub. nom., Summers v. Earth Island Institute, 129 S. Ct. 1142 (2009) (holding that the challengers lacked standing to dispute the regulations). 88 P.L. 112-74, §428. 89 16 U.S.C. §1612 note. 90 36 C.F.R. §215.2. The statute says that an appellant must make written or oral comments, but does not require that they be substantive. P.L. 102-381, §322(c). 91 36 C.F.R. §215.8. 92 36 C.F.R. §215.2. Congressional Research Service 15 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service informal meeting with the appellant, and documentation from that meeting is part of the appeal record.93 There is also an intermediate layer of review by a person known as the Appeal Reviewing Officer, who makes recommendations to the Appeal Deciding Officer. The Appeal Reviewing Officer reviews the issues and writes an opinion for the Deciding Officer’s approval. Table 1. Forest Service Appeal Deciding Officers If the Responsible Official who made the decision is: Then the Appeal Deciding Officer is: Forest Supervisor Regional Forester Regional Forester or Station Director Chief of the Forest Service Chief of the Forest Service Secretary of Agriculture Source: Congressional Research Service. Part 251—Appeals of Decisions Related to Occupancy and Use of Forests Part 251 applies to appeals for special use permits and other contract-like disputes, as opposed to the development of plans or implementation of projects. Here are some examples: • permits for ingress and egress to private lands across Forest Service lands; • permits and occupancy agreements on grasslands under the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act (P.L. 75-210); • grazing and livestock use permits; • permits authorizing exercise of mineral rights reserved after conveyance; • permits for uses in wilderness areas; and • approval or non-approval of Surface Use Plans of Operations related to use and occupancy of particular sites.94 A list of decisions that are not appealable under this section is provided in Section 251.83 and includes administrative and personnel decisions. One notable exception is for actions related to rehabilitating Forest Service lands after natural disasters such as wildfires, severe wind, flooding, or earthquakes. The Chief of the Forest Service can exempt those actions from review.95 93 Id. 36 C.F.R. §251.82(a). 95 36 C.F.R. §251.84(m). 94 Congressional Research Service 16 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service The regulations define who may appeal under Part 251. Only applicants for authorization, or signatories and holders of authorizations may appeal.96 Interveners may appeal if they can demonstrate how their interests are affected by the appeal.97 Any appeals must be filed within 45 days of the written decision.98 Stays are not automatically granted, unlike for many Part 215 appeals. However, in the case of appeals of grazing decisions, the action is stayed if the grazing permit holder requests mediation simultaneously with the appeal.99 Otherwise, stays may be requested using the procedure in Section 251.91. Another difference in Part 251 appeals is that certain appeals may be heard at more than one level, while others are heard at only one, and still another type of appeal is discretionary, and so may not be reviewed at all. Appeals to be heard by the Secretary—those appealing a decision of the Chief of the Forest Service—are at the discretion of the Secretary.100 Where no review decision is issued after 30 days of the discretionary review period, the written decision that was being appealed is treated as a final decision by the agency and ripe for review by the federal courts.101 If the Secretary has decided not to review the Chief’s decision, the Secretary’s office will notify the requester of the fact within 15 days of receiving the appeal. Figure 12. Administrative Appeals Under Part 251 of Forest Service Chief Decisions Source: Congressional Research Service. Decisions made by the District Ranger may be reviewed by the Forest Supervisor as a first review, and then by the Regional Forester, based on the record from the first review.102 96 36 C.F.R. §251.86. Interveners are also allowed to appeal. They are defined as individuals or organizations that hold the written instrument or who have applied for the written instrument. 36 C.F.R. §251.81. 97 36 C.F.R. §251.81. 98 36 C.F.R. §251.88(a). 99 36 C.F.R. §§251.91(a), 251.103. 100 36 C.F.R. §251.87(a). 101 36 C.F.R. §251.100(g). 102 36 C.F.R. §251.87(c). Congressional Research Service 17 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service Figure 13. Administrative Appeals Under Part 251 of District Ranger Decisions Source: Congressional Research Service. If the decision was made by the Forest Supervisor or the Regional Forester, only one level of review is available under Part 251, to their immediate supervisor.103 Figure 14. Administrative Appeals Under Part 251 of Forest Supervisor or Regional Forester Decisions Source: Congressional Research Service. Part 251 provides for oral presentation of the issues, if requested by the appellant. The regulations provide that an oral presentation will automatically be provided if requested as part of the notice of appeal.104 The presentations may be open to the public. Mediation sessions of grazing permits, however, are confidential, although the final decision resulting from the mediation is a public document.105 103 36 C.F.R. §251.87(b). 36 C.F.R. §251.97(b). 105 36 C.F.R. §251.103(d). 104 Congressional Research Service 18 Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service Appendix. Glossary of Acronyms ALJ Administrative Law Judge (decision makers in certain BLM challenges) APD Application for a Permit to Drill ARA Forest Service Decisionmaking and Appeals Reform Act (16 U.S.C. §1612 note) BLM Bureau of Land Management of the Department of the Interior CE Categorical Exclusion (a decision under NEPA that, based on previously determined criteria, no significant adverse environmental impacts will occur as a result of the agency action) C.F.R. Code of Federal Regulations EA Environmental Assessment (a NEPA document assessing environmental impacts to see if an EIS is needed) EIS Environmental Impact Statement (a NEPA document demonstrating a hard look at the environmental consequences of a federal agency action) FLPMA Federal Land Policy and Management Act (43 U.S.C. §§1701-1712) HFRA Healthy Forests Restoration Act (16 U.S.C. §§6501 et seq.) HFRP Hazardous Fuels Reduction Projects IBLA Interior Board of Land Appeals LRMPs Land and Resource Management Plans (also known as Forest Plans) NEPA National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. §§4321 et seq.) NFMA National Forest Management Act (16 U.S.C. §§1601-1606) OHA Office of Hearings and Appeals (oversees IBLA appeals within the Department of the Interior) Author Contact Information Kristina Alexander Legislative Attorney kalexander@crs.loc.gov, 7-8597 Acknowledgments Pat McClaughry, a former Graphics Specialist at CRS, created the flow charts in this report. Congressional Research Service 19