This week, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a rule rescinding the rule issued in 2020 defining “habitat” for the purposes of determining what constitutes “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act. You see, in a piece of expert legislative drafting in 1973, Congress defined the term “critical habitat” without defining “habitat” in the first place. Sigh.
Category Archives: Endangered Species Act
Last week, Chief Judge Brian Morris of the Federal District Court for the District of Montana vacated an “Instruction Memorandum” issued by BLM in 2018 – and also vacated numerous oil and gas leases issued in reliance on the 2018 IM. The 2018 IM changed the way BLM interpreted land management plans issued by BLM in 2015 in order to preserve sage grouse habitat, and avoid the necessity for listing the sage grouse as endangered under the ESA.… More
In another (shocking) piece of good news from the Trump Administration, the Fish & Wildlife Service last week announced a major agreement for the recovery of the monarch butterfly. The agreement will be implemented by the University of Illinois – Chicago and will involve the participation of dozens of companies in the energy and transportation sectors.
Late last month, Judge Emmet Sullivan of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, remanded to the Fish and Wildlife Service its decision to list the northern long-eared bat as threatened. The decision is lengthy and complicated, but its crux is not.
As Judge Sullivan noted, under the ESA, a species is “endangered” if it “is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” A species is “threatened” if it “is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. … More
Last week, Federal District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted a preliminary injunction to various NGOs, barring the Bureau of Land Management from implementing amendments BLM had made in 2019 to protection plans for the sage grouse promulgated by BLM in 2015. It makes compelling reading. In 29 pages, it pretty much summarizes everything the Trump administration has done in the environmental arena, and how courts have reacted.… More
The Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have released final rules amending significant parts of the regulations implementing the Endangered Species Act.
How big an impact will the changes have? Well, there’s no doubt that the supporters of the regulations hope that they will be substantial and the opponents are worried that they will be substantial,… More
Last week, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion and Incidental Take Statement for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. It’s the second time that the Court has rejected the FWS approval of the project. I have previously suggested that the Trump administration cares more about providing material for the President’s Twitter feed than advancing its deregulatory or energy dominance agendas. … More
Deja Vu All Over Again — The Trump Administration Refuses to Provide “Good Reasons” For Its Change in Course on Keystone XL
Yesterday, Judge Brian Morris granted summary judgment to plaintiffs on some of their claims challenging the State Department’s new Record of Decision for the Keystone XL project. Whatever our Tweeter-in-chief may say, it’s actually a fairly balanced decision, which ruled in the Administration’s favor on a number of issues.
The most noteworthy part of the decision takes the State Department to task for failing to provide “good reasons” for the change in the ROD concerning climate change. … More
Score One For Rational Regulation: The 2nd Circuit Rejects Environmental and Industry Challenges to EPA’s Cooling Water Intake Structure Rule
On Monday, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected all challenges to EPA’s cooling water intake structure rule. Notwithstanding the Court’s rejection of the industry challenges, it’s a big win for industry. As I noted when the rule was promulgated, industry dodged a major bullet when EPA decided not to require closed-cycle cooling at existing facilities.
The decision is really all about Chevron deference and is another bit of evidence in support of my ongoing effort to demonstrate that conservatives might want to be careful what they wish for when they discuss overruling Chevron.… More
Earlier this month, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision that is a must-read for anyone who will be needing at some point to relicense an existing hydroelectric facility. The short version is the status quo may no longer be good enough and dam operators may have to improve on existing conditions in order to succeed in relicensing. At a minimum, facility operators will have to take the cumulative impacts of dam operation into account in performing environmental assessments under NEPA required for relicensing.… More
Earlier this week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a District Court decision and reinstated the National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision to list the Arctic ringed seal as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The decision was not a surprise, because the 9th Circuit had already affirmed NMFS’s decision to list the bearded seal on identical grounds.
What caught my eye was this language in the opinion – actually a quote from the bearded seal decision.… More
Last Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a District Court decision ruling that the Fish & Wildlife Service decision that listing of the whitebark pine as endangered or threatened was “warranted, but precluded” was not arbitrary and capricious. The decision seems correct, but as the frustration of the Court reflects, it’s only because the ESA is designed to fail.
The procedural history is lengthy and not really necessary to repeat here. … More
Earlier this week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a District Court decision and vacated an injunction which had prevented the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from reintroducing the Mexican gray wolf onto certain federal lands in New Mexico. The decision seems fairly straightforward and plainly correct. The interesting aspect of the case is the Court’s discussion of state sovereignty.
The State of New Mexico argued in part that the reintroduction of wolves onto federal land without a permit from the State was a violation of the State’s sovereignty. … More
On Wednesday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held that regulation of takes of the Utah prairie dog, a purely intrastate species, does not violate the Constitution. Reversing the decision below, the 10th Circuit joined all four other circuit courts to have dealt with the issue thus far in upholding the ESA against such Commerce Clause challenges.
In January, I argued that conservative opposition to the Chevron doctrine seemed inconsistent with conservative ideology and I noted, at a practical level, that opposition to Chevron does not always yield the results conservative want.
Last Friday, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia provided more evidence supporting my thesis. The Court affirmed the decision of the Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the gray wolf as endangered in Wyoming,… More
Earlier this week, the 9th Circuit found that the Bureau of Reclamation had authority under 1955 legislation to order additional releases of water to the Trinity River from the Lewiston Dam beyond the amount designated in an official release schedule, where necessary to protect downstream fish populations. The Court basically held that general language in the 1955 Act trumped later legislation that seemed to prescribe or at least authorize more limited releases.… More
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals just denied en banc review in a case involving the Fish & Wildlife Service’s designation of critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog. There are only 100 of these “shy” frogs left, and none of them live in the area in Louisiana designated as critical habitat by the FWS.
The focus of the panel decision – and both the panel dissent and the dissent from the denial of en banc review – was whether private land could be considered critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog if no frogs live in the area and the area could not currently support the frog.… More
- It’s still going to be difficult to amend the key statutes, unless the GOP goes nuclear with the filibuster rules. I don’t see Clean Air Act amendments happening. Significant amendments might be possible to the Endangered Species Act and Superfund.…
The drumbeat of cases, either approving agency action under the ESA – or reversing agency refusal to act – due to habitat alteration resulting from climate change continues to grow. In February, the 9th Circuit reversed a district court decision and approved the Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of critical polar bear habitat. In April, Judge Christensen of the District of Montana vacated FWS’s decision to withdraw a proposed listing of the wolverine. … More
FWS Goes Back to Square One On Listing the Wolverine. It’s Not Going to Be Any Easier This Time Around.
As we noted in this space in April, Judge Dana Christensen vacated the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to withdraw its proposed listing of a distinct population segment of the North American wolverine as threatened under the ESA. Bowing to the inevitable, the FWS has now published in the Federal Register a formal acknowledgement that the Court’s vacatur of the withdrawal of the proposed listing returns the situation to the status quo.… More
In an interesting decision last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected challenges to BLM’s decision to issue a right-of-way permit for Tule Wind’s plan for a wind farm southeast of San Diego. It’s not exactly earthshattering, but it is a helpful decision both for decisionmakers reviewing wind farm applications and for wind farm developers. Here are some of the highlights:
- BLM’s inclusion of DOI’s goal under the 2005 Energy Policy Act to increase nonhydropower renewable energy on federal lands as part of the “purpose and need”…
Under the Endangered Species Act, a species is “threatened” when it is “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.” As scientists continue to predict that climate change will alter habitat over the coming century, it certainly seems “foreseeable” that more species will become endangered. That’s what the Fish & Wildlife Service concluded about the wolverine in early 2013. When FWS backtracked in 2014, Defenders of Wildlife sued. … More
On Monday, the 9th Circuit reversed a district court decision that rejected the critical habitat designated by the Fish and Wildlife Service for protection of the polar bear, which was listed as threatened in 2008. The case is largely a straightforward application of accepted Endangered Species Act principles, but does make a few important points.
As we discussed last summer, the Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 30-year programmatic permit for incidental takes of bald and golden eagles from wind farms violates NEPA. This week, FWS bowed to reality and revised the permit to change the term to five years.
No word on any efforts by FWS to provide the necessary analysis under NEPA that might justify a 30-year term. … More
No Short Cuts Allowed: The FWS Must Comply with NEPA Before Extending Programmatic Take Permits to 30 Years
Earlier this month, the Judge Lucy Koh set aside the Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision to extend its programmatic permit for bald and golden eagle takes from five to 30 years. The extension was sought by the wind industry for the obvious reason that the uncertainty attached to a five-year permit makes financing a 20- or 30-year project very difficult. I agree with the concern and support the extension,… More
On Tuesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Commerce Department’s designation of critical habitat for the southern distinct population segment of green sturgeon, once again reminding us just how difficult it is to fight city hall – or the capital – where the ESA is concerned.
Section 4 of the EPA provides that
The Secretary shall designate critical habitat .… More
In an interesting, but not really difficult, decision on Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the National Association of Home Builders did not have standing to challenge a consent decree pursuant to which the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to a schedule for moving 251 species from “warranted-but-precluded” status under the ESA to either warranted or unwarranted. The FWS, short of resources to make final listing decisions under the ESA,… More
On Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals dealt another blow to traditional operation of the massive water projects that supply California’s Central Valley. The Court reversed those parts of a District Court opinion that had rejected parts of the biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service intended to protect various salmonid species in the Central Valley.