08.15.2012 - CNPSR Appeals to Yellowstone Sup't. Wenk to Extend Public Review for Winter Use Plan
Dear Superintendent Wenk:
The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) is eager for the National Park Service (NPS)
and Yellowstone National Park to succeed in adopting a sound and sustainable winter transportation plan
for the Park. We believe wholeheartedly in your repeated emphasis that this goal must be accomplished
by assuring that a winter management plan for our first national park will be based on fidelity to law and
policy, the best available sound science and scholarship, full public participation and transparent
decision-making, and the long-term public interest. As an organization that consists of many former
NPS officials who have dealt with complex and controversial decisions of this nature, we fully appreciate
the pressures and difficult challenges that are inherent in longstanding resource and public use
management conflicts. As NPS moves forward with its development of the Yellowstone winter use plan,
we seek to be constructively and positively involved through the public participation process.
In furtherance of that goal, CNPSR is writing at this time to offer our comments on the procedures that
are now being used to complete the consideration of the Draft Supplemental EIS (DSEIS) on the plan.
The EPA notice of availability for the DSEIS appeared in the Federal Register on July 6, 2012. The
comment period is set to close on August 20.
As discussed in this letter, we are concerned that the current procedure does not allow for sufficient
public input. We also believe that options are available that would allow NPS to extend the DSEIS
comment period and complete its decision-making in a timely manner.
Before discussing the DSEIS procedures, we note that, based on our preliminary review, CNPSR is
concerned about the preferred alternative to increase snowmobile use in Yellowstone above the
2011/2012 levels. It is, in part, as a result of our effort to understand the basis for this possible change
that we recommend an extension of the DSEIS comment period.
The DSEIS itself does not appear to provide technical or scientific support for the proposed comparison
of seven snowmobiles to each snow coach. As a result, we have not been able to determine the basis for
the proposed action.
In response to this concern, which has been raised by other parties as well, Yellowstone National Park
has made a sequence of disclosures on its website, making public information available that should have
been included or referenced in the DSEIS itself. The Park has posted the following technical studies:
Draft Air Quality Modeling Report Snowmobile and Snowcoach Emissions; Draft Air Quality Modeling
Report Snowmobile and Snowcoach Emissions Appendices; Modeling Noise from Snow Vehicles in
Yellowstone National Park – Tools Utilized for the 2011 EIS and 2011 SEIS; Yellowstone Over-snow
Vehicle Emission Tests 2012: Preliminary Report. This is important information; it goes to the heart of
the DSEIS and its alternatives. Moreover, based on our preliminary review, we do not see how this
information supports the action set forth in the preferred alternative. NPS made all of these studies
available after the release of the DSEIS, with the most recent posting (Modeling Noise) occurring on
The result is a compromised public review opportunity that is inconsistent with the policy and
requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These requirements cannot be satisfied
when important information and studies that were developed for, and relied upon by, NPS prior to the
release of the DSEIS are not made available to the public until a significant portion of the NEPA
comment period has expired.
Those who commented on the DSEIS early in the process did so without benefit of the data and context
that NPS posted subsequently. Others who may wish to comment likely remain unaware that the
information available to them in the DSEIS has been augmented in other places. Those who may
recognize that a fuller set of information exists than was included in the publicized DSEIS now lack
sufficient time to synthesize the different NPS disclosures and provide useful comments. CNPSR itself
needs more time to review the recently released information. These problems are augmented by the fact
that the information is voluminous and highly technical in nature.
No issue in the history of the National Park System has elicited as much public comment to the NPS as
that of winter use in Yellowstone. We urge you to assure that the final stages of your adoption of a longterm
winter management plan for this cherished national treasure honor the public’s opportunity to
submit suggestions and preferences about Yellowstone’s future based on all the facts needed to
understand the implications of one management choice versus another.
Failing to provide for adequate public review of the DSEIS is an error that will compound itself as the
decision-making process goes forward. For example, the length and sufficiency of the comment period
on the anticipated proposed rule is directly related to the sufficiency of the DSEIS comment period.
Making important technical information relied on in the DSEIS available for public comment for only a
brief period of time will place added pressure on the review of the proposed rule and the final EIS. We
note that the current NPS schedule announced in public meetings that calls for 45 days to comment on
the proposed rule is already shorter than the 60-day comment period called for under the Department of
the Interior Manual, 318 DM 5.4, and Executive Order 12,866, § 6(a), 58 Fed. Reg. 51,735 (Oct. 4,
1993). Shortened rulemaking comment periods are difficult to justify for complex proposals involving
scientific or technical data, such as the Yellowstone winter use plan. Relying on an already abbreviated
proposed rule comment period for comment on the technical studies at issue in connection with DSEIS is
therefore unlikely to be sufficient for public review purposes or consistent with
the Administrative Procedure Act and Executive Branch policy.
In our opinion, now is the time to provide for the fullest possible opportunity to comment on the technical
information that serves as the basis for the DSEIS. We therefore request that you extend the comment
period so that a 30-day comment period runs from the date the critically important supplemental
information became available on August 7, which would be September 6. If that is not possible, the
comment period should be extended beyond August 20 to the latest possible date, with a Federal
Register notice and other postings to that effect.
CNPSR understands that there are hard deadlines that need to be met. Many CNPSR members struggled
with similar conflicts between resource management needs and bureaucratic/legal constraints when they
served for NPS, and we are sympathetic to this challenge. While these deadlines are looming, however,
we believe options are available. As an initial matter, we do not believe the comment period extension
we propose would necessarily prevent a Record of Decision from being completed in time for the
expiration of the current final interim rule on December 15, 2012. For example, consistent with the
currently proposed NPS schedule, a proposed rule could be published on September 10 with a 45-day
comment period (made possible by an adequate NEPA comment period) until October 25. The final EIS
could be released in early November, with a Record of Decision and final rule issued before the
December 15 deadline.
Even if a new final rule could not be implemented by December 15, it is possible to extend the
2011/2012 plan as set forth in the rule published on December 12, 2011 by means of an interim final rule.
In fact, the DSEIS includes an alternative that would adopt the 2011/2012 standards, so the basis for
doing so under NEPA already exists. This option could be used as a fallback in the event final action on
the DSEIS and a new proposed rule cannot be completed before the coming winter season.
We know how much importance you place on sound science and public participation as the basis for NPS
decisions. CNPSR appeals to your support of those principles as the grounds for extending the current
public comment period. Thank you for considering this request.
Chair, Executive Council