For Immediate Release: Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Sub-Rosa Advisory Group Behind Interior’s Policy Letting E-Bikes on Trails
Washington, DC — A long series of industry-driven meetings with federal officials to push policies allowing electric bicycles on public lands has been terminated due to legal concerns, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The “E-bike Partner and Agency Group” violated federal transparency requirements that such meetings be publicly noticed and meeting materials made available.
Documents obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reveal the role that e-bikes industry lobbyists played in generating two directives from the Secretary of Interior and the National Park Service (NPS), both issued this August, that allowed e-bikes on Interior lands and Park trails on the same basis as human-powered bicycles. The e-bikes lobbyists met and had quarterly teleconferences with a large array of federal officials at least eight times, dating back to September 14, 2017.
However, officials raised concerns about lack of compliance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires that repeated private industry advisory meetings with federal officials first be announced in the Federal Register and the meeting minutes and materials must be available to the public. As one Forest Service (FS) official e-mailed:
“About a year ago, we raised the concern whether FACA applies to the e-bike interagency/partner group. NPS said we were okay. Now more than ever I increasingly feel uneasy about FS participation…especially since: a gov’t agency continues to ‘host’ mtgs & develop agendas; it’s not an open mtg (when the only partners at the table are e-bike/mtn bike advocacy groups…)”
PEER and other organizations had issued FOIA requests and PEER recently filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the NPS e-bikes policy citing FACA and other legal violations.
An email message from the NPS convener to the E-bike Partner Group indicates that as of October 10:
“This e-bike call will conclude our ‘Partner and Agency’ calls…This is to ensure that we avoid any conflict with the Federal Advisory Committee Act.”
“Shutting down the E-bikes Group after eight meetings and industry had accomplished its policy goal is just like shutting the barn door after all the horses bolted,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins, noting that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is a former industry lobbyist. “This episode indicates the pervasive industry influence over Interior Department decision-making.”
The PEER lawsuit charges that the NPS developed its e-bikes deregulation directive based on the Group’s industry-driven recommendations. PEER also sent letters to participating agencies warning about FACA violations.
“The reason these meetings were secret is that this plotting could not succeed in the light of day,” added Jenkins, noting that Congress directed that regular outside advisory interactions be placed on the record to ensure integrity of federal decision-making. “Not surprisingly, this glaring FACA violation is only one of a number of legal defects afflicting the Park Service’s e-bikes directive.”