The USDA independent investigator will review a Forest Service grant after Ranking Member Stabenow and Chairman Grijalva raised concerns
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ-3), Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspector General will investigate whether the U.S. Forest Service improperly granted funds to the State of Alaska that were used to weaken protections for the Tongass National Forest.
“The Tongass is America’s largest national forest, and protecting it is a critical part of addressing the climate crisis,” Ranking Member Stabenow said. “This impartial review will help us discover whether taxpayer dollars were misused to threaten one of our most important natural resources.”
“The Forest Service has lost $600 million over the last twenty years on old-growth timber logging in the Tongass, and it’s time to stop the bleeding,” Chair Grijalva said. “Alaskan officials have no right to waste taxpayer money weakening a rule that protects the Tongass and the public owners of the land. Congressionally appropriated funds need to be used as they were intended, not to prop up efforts to open more of our national forests to extraction at public expense.”
The Tongass National Forest in Alaska is the largest in the United States. With 17 million acres, it is estimated that the Tongass holds nearly 1 billion metric tons of carbon, which is equivalent to the emissions from over 743 million cars per year. Exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule, which protects forests from destructive logging, could cause emissions that would be equivalent to building 155 coal power plants or burning over 67 billion gallons of gasoline.
In November, Stabenow and Grijalva requested the Inspector General investigation after Alaska Public Media reported that the Forest Service awarded a $2 million grant to the State of Alaska, which was used to support a requested exemption from federal environmental rules. The state allegedly used this grant to coordinate efforts to support a rulemaking to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule, providing some of the funds to a timber industry association supportive of removing environmental protections from the Tongass.
The Inspector General will investigate whether the Forest Service properly granted these funds to the State of Alaska and whether the funds were used appropriately. They will also examine the factors and decisions that led the Forest Service to award the grant.