For Immediate Release: Monday, October 5, 2020
Contact: Kirsten Stade firstname.lastname@example.org
Park Service Scrambles to Finish E-Bike Rule
Hastily Fashioned Regulation Will Not Extinguish Lawsuit Challenge
Washington, DC — Today in an attempt to block litigation brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the National Park Service issued a Final Rule to approve faster electronic bicycles (“e-bikes”) anywhere in the National Parks where human-pedaled bicycles are allowed. This Rule is designed to fill a gaping legal hole in the Park Service’s initially secret effort to allow motorized transportation within park backcountry.
The new Rule will not derail the pending lawsuit challenging its validity, however. Numerous concerns, such as the risks of high-speed e-bikes to visitors and wildlife, spooking horses on mixed-use trails, and degrading the quality of the backcountry experience, have not been addressed, let alone resolved. The agency also declined to conduct the type of detailed environmental review required by law.
PEER represents five environmental groups, including Wilderness Watch and the Marin Conservation League, and three impacted individuals in a suit filed in December 2019 challenging an earlier order by an illegally-appointed acting Park Service Director approving e-bikes contrary to an existing regulation. This new Rule, first proposed this April, aims to remedy this glaring oversight. The plaintiffs are now moving to amend their suit and will seek an expedited court decision on the new Rule’s invalidity.
“The Park Service’s undue haste resembles an e-bike whizzing by with an irresponsible teenager on the throttle,” said PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins, noting that these actions followed an Interior-wide edict from Secretary David Bernhardt in August 2019. “Interior and the Park Service realized they were caught with their legal pants down and are scrambling for cover.”
Last year, PEER uncovered an illegal industry lobbying effort called the “E-bike Partner and Agency Group.” Interior’s approval of e-bikes followed two years of secret meetings of that industry-dominated Group, which disbanded after its existence was revealed. As a result, another count in the lawsuit is violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which prohibits Federal agencies from regularly meeting in secret with “advisory” interests.
“This Rule is the product of industry influence having nothing to do with improving the park experience – a topic on which the Park Service has yet to even do a preliminary assessment,” added Jenkins, noting that National Parks have also yet to develop rules on masks, social distancing, and other COVID-19-related matters. “Given the major challenges facing a Park Service in the grip of a pandemic, this is a questionable use of its limited regulatory resources.”
The current de facto acting Director of the National Park Service, Margaret Everson, follows two earlier unconfirmed acting agency heads, P. Daniel Smith and David Vela, who shepherded e-bikes onto park trails at the behest of Secretary Bernhardt. The Trump Administration has been the first to ever go through an entire presidential term without a confirmed Park Service Director. This shuffle of lower-level appointees has largely left national parks under Bernhardt’s control.