For Immediate Release: Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Contact: Kirsten Stade firstname.lastname@example.org; Peter Jenkins email@example.com
Suit to Bar E-Bikes from Park Trails Gets Greenlight
Claims Challenging Legality of NPS E-Bikes Approval Will Be Heard
Washington, DC — A lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s approval of electronic bicycles (“e-bikes”) anywhere in the National Park System where traditional human-pedaled bicycles are allowed has survived dismissal and will now be heard in full, according to a federal court ruling posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The suit, in essence, would bar e-bikes from park backcountry where motorized transport is otherwise forbidden.
In summary orders issued back in August 2019, the Trump Interior Department, followed the next day by the National Park Service, directed that e-bikes would be allowed on park trails wherever traditional bicycles are allowed. The NPS order was issued by an official who was illegally serving as “acting” Director and had no legal power to issue such an edict. PEER and a coalition of groups filed suit to strike down this illegal order.
Scrambling to cure this defect, the Park Service moved to codify this e-bikes policy by adopting a new e-bike regulation, which “Final Rule” was signed on November 2, 2020, in the waning days of the Trump term. After the regulation was adopted, the government moved to dismiss the PEER suit, which had since been amended to also challenge the new regulation.
In an order dated March 30, 2021, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled that PEER’s challenges to both the original order and the Final Rule could go forward. Judge Contreras found a key Park Service argument to be “nonsensical”; further, that the original NPS approval order appeared to be “’bootstrapped’ and used as a false justification for a continuing NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] violation in the Final Rule.”
“The unanswered question is why would the Biden administration defend this ill-conceived Trump/Bernhardt initiative?” asked PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins, noting that some 380 park units allowed e-bikes under the earlier illegal order. “This blanket e-bikes approval is the epitome of the worst way to make natural resource policy.”
The PEER case is based upon a number of claims, all of which the Judge approved. A central issue is that the NPS has never conducted an environmental review under NEPA of on-the-ground impacts, such 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. NPS has refused to conduct the type of detailed environmental review required despite ample opportunity to do so.
The court also will hear the claim that the policy resulted from illegal lobbying by an industry-backed “E-bike Partner and Agency Group,” which disbanded after PEER revealed its existence.
PEER represents five environmental groups, including Wilderness Watch and the Marin Conservation League, and three impacted individuals in its suit.
“This new national e-bikes policy was hatched by industry lobbyists, not by national park professionals,” added Jenkins, noting that NPS has not had a Senate-confirmed Director for more than five years. “After the court’s strong ruling we will be happy to continue to litigate if necessary, but we are open to discussing next steps forward with the new Park Service leadership when they take office.”