The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 was enacted to address concerns about environmental quality. NEPA’s main objectives are as follows:
- Ensure that federal agencies evaluate the potential environmental impacts of proposed programs, projects, and actions before decisions are made to implement them
- Inform the public of proposed federal activities that have the potential to affect the human environment, including the natural and physical environments
- Encourage and facilitate public involvement in the decision-making process
NEPA requires a federal agency to analyze impacts from a proposal and its alternatives and provides the public with opportunities to participate in the process. The decision maker will be the U.S. Congress through legislation.
Decisions regarding military land withdrawals are at the discretion of Congress; therefore, an LEIS is being prepared. An LEIS is different from a typical EIS in that there is no Record of Decision. The decision on the final action will be made by Congress and written into law. An LEIS must:
- Identify and describe the affected environment;
- Evaluate the potential environmental consequences from a range of reasonable alternatives; and
- Identify environmental permits and specific mitigation measures to prevent or minimize environmental impacts, if required.
An LEIS is the detailed statement included in a recommendation or report on a legislative proposal to Congress. It is considered part of the formal transmittal of a legislative proposal to Congress.
- The Secretary of the Interior has the authority to withdraw lands in federal ownership, effectively removing an area of federal land from settlement, sale, location, or entry for the purpose of limiting activities under those laws to maintain other public values in the area or reserving it for a particular public purpose or program.
- Public lands may also be withdrawn and reserved for military training and testing in support of national defense requirements. Military withdrawals and reservations of 5,000 or more acres are authorized by Act of Congress; military withdrawals of less than 5,000 acres are by Secretarial Order.
- Congressional withdrawals are legislative actions taken by Congress in the form of public laws, which is the type of withdrawal being evaluated for the BMGR.
- The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for processing the land withdrawal applications and will prepare a case file for the Department of the Interior to submit to Congress.
- The rules and procedures implementing the Department of the Interior’s authority to process federal land withdrawal applications are found in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
- The initial land withdrawal process includes conducting pre-application consultations; publishing a notice of the application within the Federal Register; holding a public hearing; and preparing a case file, which includes an LEIS and recommendations. The case file will be based on input provided by the Air Force and Marine Corps.
- Currently, more than 60 percent of the BMGR is regularly restricted from recreational access because of safety hazards presented by the military mission. As long as certain necessary restrictions are observed, areas of the BMGR that can generally accommodate public visitation on a regular basis include Area B within BMGR East and most of the eastern portion of BMGR West.
- Extending the land withdrawal would not change recreational access nor the access process, which includes obtaining a range permit (mandatory for all BMGR recreation users), signing a hold-harmless form, and watching a safety video. Range access permits are available online at: https://luke.isportsman.net/ . Additionally, visitors are required to check-in prior to entering the BMGR via the iSportsman website.
- Some activities have been and will continue to be prohibited or require a Special Use Permit. Examples include:
- Parties with 10 or more vehicles
- Using drones (prohibited)
- Discharging firearms before sunrise or after sunset
- Discharging fully automatic firearms
- Camping for extended periods
- Conducting scientific studies of any type
- Collecting wildlife specimens (also requires Arizona Game and Fish Department approval)
On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared the ongoing Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic in the U.S. as a national emergency under the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.). Each national emergency proclamation is unique in content, varying according to the country’s situation at the time and the anticipated needs to protect public health and safety. This national emergency proclamation is primarily directed to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, but also clarifies that there shall no impairment or affects to executive branch authority or the functions of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
Federal agencies under executive branch authority are required to continue operating under legal mandates and administrative regulations during the national emergency. Accordingly, the Department of Defense is taking the required steps to follow through on its determination that there will be a continuing need for the Barry M. Goldwater Range (BMGR) beyond the existing land withdrawals’ expiration date (October 2024) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is required to follow through on processing the land withdrawal applications. Public scoping is an important step in the administrative processes currently underway, and public meetings are required for the BLM’s public scoping efforts. Preparation of a legislative environmental impact statement (LEIS) and land withdrawal applications take considerable time, effort and coordination to complete. In the case of the proposed BMGR land withdrawal, the public scoping period must be completed as currently scheduled or risk expiration of the existing withdrawal legislation that authorizes military use of the range for national defense training purposes.
Public scoping meetings were scheduled prior to the Covid-19 National Emergency and the Center for Disease control’s guidance to shelter in place and avoid large public gatherings. The virtual public meetings are intended to replace the cancelled community meetings and are part of a larger public communications effort that includes non-digital and digital communications.
The public scoping period for the LEIS has legislatively determined time frames and requirements to allow participation of interested members of the public, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and tribes. In addition to two virtual public meetings on May 26 and 28, 2020 the public involvement effort for the BMGR LEIS and BLM land withdrawal administrative processess includes Federal Register notifications, newspaper advertisements, a project web site, brochures, community fliers, newsletters, and agency and tribal notifications.
Paper copies of the project brochure are available for pickup at BLM offices in Yuma, Phoenix and Tucson. You may also download or print scoping materials from the BMGR project website at www.barry-m-goldwater-leis.com to share with people who lack Internet access or to display in public places. You may also request paper copies of project materials by calling the Public Affairs office at Luke Air Force Base, 623-856-5853, mail a request to: BMGR Land Withdrawal LEIS, P.O. Box 2324, Phoenix, AZ 85003, or email: BMGR_LEIS@jacobs.com.
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