WASHINGTON - The Bush administration said Monday it will propose a rule change allowing governors to seek exemptions from a policy blocking road-building in remote areas of national forests.
The plan to amend the so-called roadless rule - adopted in the final days of the Clinton administration - comes just five days after a top official said the administration would let the rule stand.
Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey said the proposed change would allow states to play a greater role in land-use decisions that affect them.
The roadless rule, which blocks development on 58 million acres of federal land, "is the law of the land,"' Rey said, "but we will leave it up to the governors to see where on a limited basis relief might be appropriate."
Critics called the plan a giveaway to the timber industry, noting Republican governors in many Western states have long opposed the roadless rule. Several states, including Idaho and Utah, have challenged the rule in court and are likely to seek exemptions from the rule, environmentalists said.
"It's an outrageous and transparent effort to let someone else take the heat for advancing the administration's anti-environment agenda," said Niel Lawrence, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.