National Park E-Bike Rule Lacks Required Eco-Review

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Wednesday, May 25, 2022
Paula Dinerstein (301) 580-4020

National Park E-Bike Rule Lacks Required Eco-Review

Court Directs Park Service to Consider Cumulative and Foreseeable Impacts


Washington, DC —The National Park Service’s embrace of electric bicycles was hasty and ill-considered, according to a federal court ruling issued today in a lawsuit brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The court ordered the NPS to take a new look at the foreseeable and cumulative impacts of its policy to allow e-bikes on some park trails. 

In 2019, the Trump administration issued a directive allowing e-bikes on all park trails where human-powered bikes are allowed.  PEER and its allies immediately filed suit on multiple grounds, including that 1) the directive was issued by an unconfirmed illegal “acting” director; 2) was the product of an illicit shadow industry advisory group; and 3) did not have the review required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).   

In reaction to the PEER suit, NPS began to reconfigure its posture by abandoning the Trump directive and issuing a new policy allowing park superintendents to consider allowing e-bikes. 

In a ruling today, Federal District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras of the District of Columbia found that the evolving NPS policy had sufficiently distanced itself from the Trump order but still lacked the required NEPA review. Rather than vacate the current policy, Judge Contreras remanded the matter back to NPS to undertake the environmental reviews it evaded.  

“The fact that the National Park Service sought to avoid studying the impact on park resources and visitors before opening trails to e-bikes speaks volumes about the agency’s environmental decision making,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse.  “In essence, the Park Service chose to leap before it looked.”   

The current state of affairs for e-bikes in national parks remains somewhat murky.  Some 280 parks acted under the Trump rule.  On June 30, 2021, NPS rescinded the Trump rule and ordered parks to “reconsider whether, where, and under what conditions e-bike use should be allowed on trails or administrative roads.” It remains unclear how many parks today allow e-bikes and under what conditions. 

Parks must now take a hard look at the array of issues they should have considered at the outset, such as how to avoid user conflicts with the heavier, fast-moving e-bikes, the impact the faster e-bikes will have on wildlife along backcountry trails, and the added damage to unpaved trails from heavy e-bike use, even as the NPS maintenance backlog has again ballooned to $13 billion. 

“The disturbing aspect of this case is that Park Service leadership seems allergic to the type of basic environmental planning that should be central to its mission,” Whitehouse added, noting that PEER is also waging a similar court battle over NPS’ refusal to analyze impacts of noisy air tours.  “Environmental planning should be the bedrock of our national park system, not an afterthought.” 


Read the court order   

View the NPS 2021 step back on e-bikes 

Look at the PEER air-tour suit 

Examine abandonment of NPS system planning 

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