Washington, DC — The National Park Service is no longer required to inform the public about applications for new cell towers or provide basic information about visual impacts or signal strength, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Ironically, NPS made these policy changes without public notice or involvement.
Besides rescinding public notice requirements for new wireless telecommunications facilities, such as cell towers, the revised NPS policies –
- Repeal requirements that applicants make available information about signal coverage or strength or conduct balloon tests to assess visual impacts of new towers;
- Allow modifications, including expansion, of existing permits without public notice or environmental review; and
- Block the public from appealing right of way approvals for cell towers or other facilities.
The NPS’ stated rationale for this stealth rewrite was: “The revisions found herein were necessitated by outdated information and guidance that is confusing, inconsistent with best practices and processes, and out of step with current technology…”
“Under its new rules, the Park Service gives telecom companies prerogatives it denies to the public,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that emergence of 5G technology will put even more pressure on parks to approve new and expanded current wireless capacity. “The public should be able to review details of any plans to convert their national parks into outdoor cybercafes before the deals are cut behind closed doors.”
These rules were issued in the final days of the Trump administration. A further irony is that they developed in response to a critical 2019 report from the Interior’s Office of Inspector General that recommended NPS take steps to improve public notice and involvement in park wireless decision-making. Yet, after concurring with this recommendation, NPS proceeded to do the opposite by repealing the very public notice rules the IGral found parks were ignoring.
PEER is asking the new NPS Director Chuck Sams to review the Trump midnight changes and to restore public participation and transparency to the process.
“Before national parks surrender their serenity values, viewsheds, and soundscapes to commercial operators, the public should have the opportunity to meaningfully weigh in,” added Ruch, noting that the new rules also allow wireless and tower companies without FCC licenses to obtain park rights of way. “The quality of park management is this realm has left a lot to be desired and undoubtedly will not improve with less scrutiny and greater secrecy.”