Policy Update – August 2023

In this month’s policy update, we celebrate a huge win in Minnesota against unnecessary ski resort expansion, and begin to digest the CEQ’s Phase 2 ruling for NEPA.

Photo Credit: Eddie Wong

From Hilary Eisen, WWA Policy Director (8/30/2023)

It’s almost Labor Day and while I’m enjoying every last bit of summer, my thoughts are starting to turn to winter from time to time. On these last hot days, the biting cold of February seems like an impossible dream, but it will be here before we know it.

Another thing that will be here before we know it – much sooner than February – is Winter Wildlands Alliance’s Grassroots Advocacy Conference! I’m looking forward to seeing many of our grassroots partners at the conference in just a couple of weeks. There are still a few spots available, so if you’ve been on the fence about attending, here’s your chance!

Moose Mountain Saved!

The most exciting news of this month arrived in my inbox last Friday. After 7 years of advocacy and engagement by Winter Wildlands Alliance, Superior Highland Backcountry, and many others, the Superior National Forest in Minnesota announced that it would be denying Lutsen Mountains Resort’s proposal to expand onto the Superior National Forest.

The public lands on Moose Mountain—home to the best backcountry skiing in Minnesota—will remain wild.

This is a big win, and it’s particularly exciting because the Forest Supervisor cited impacts to backcountry skiing as one of his reasons for denying the expansion. This is a direct result of WWA and Superior Highland Backcountry’s efforts to bring attention to the value of backcountry skiing on Moose Mountain, and to bring the attention of backcountry skiers to the proposed project.

Throughout the NEPA process, hundreds of backcountry skiers from Minnesota and across the country submitted comments to the Superior National Forest opposing the ski area expansion and calling on the Forest Service to keep Moose Mountain as it is today—wild and undeveloped.

Clear cut wins are few and far between in this line of work, both because of the nuance of public lands management and the sheer amount of time it takes to get to a decision, so please, take a minute to celebrate with us 🎉

NEPA: Phase 2

Otherwise this month, I’ve been nerding out on NEPA. On July 28, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released its Phase 2 Proposed Rule for NEPA implementation. Finalizing this Rule is the final step in a multi-phase process to restore NEPA after the Trump Administration attempted to gut the law in 2020.

The Proposed Rule seeks to streamline NEPA while staying true to the law’s purpose of environmental protection and transparency. It incorporates the deadlines, page limits, and categorical exclusion provisions prescribed in the Financial Responsibility Act (which you may recall, we don’t love) but balances these elements with strong environmental justice requirements and clear guidance on incorporating climate change and other direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts, utilizing best available science, and limits on how categorical exclusions can be applied.

On the whole, we’re very supportive of what CEQ has proposed. We’ll be sharing more about the Phase 2 Rule (along with an action alert for people to send comments to CEQ and to Congress) soon so stay tuned!

I hope you have a fun Labor Day weekend and enjoy the last few days of (official) summer. It’ll be snowing before we know it!