Legislative and Regulatory Update
September 2019 by Scott Harn
• ESA changes for the better
On August 12, 2019, the Trump administration finalized three rules governing the Endangered Species Act (ESA). (They are rather lengthy documents and links are provided at the end of this article.)
These rules are major improvements and will:
- Advise the public of the economic impact of a listing decision.
- Limit circumstances where unoccupied habitat can be designated as critical habitat.
- Remove the “blanket rule” that applied all prohibitions regarding endangered species to threatened species.
- Shift the burden to the Fish & Wildlife Service to define prohibitions for threatened species on a case-by-case basis subject to the rulemaking process.
- Provide a new definition for threatened species that will limit the scope of threats weighed in the listing decision to those which are probable in the foreseeable future.
- Streamline the de-listing process to removed recovered species from the list.
Clark Pearson (Public Lands for the People) and I had two in-person meetings with officials in the current administration in DC regarding these issues, and we are happy to see these specific items being addressed.
Further justification for the rulemaking comes from a unanimous decision by the US Supreme Court in Weyerhaeuser v. US Fish & Wildlife. In this 2018 case, the court ruled that the ESA must consider economic and other impacts before making a critical habitat designation.
In Weyerhaeuser, the Fish & Wildlife Service designated a parcel of land in Louisiana critical habitat for the endangered dusky gopher frog. The frog currently lives hundreds of miles away in Mississippi and had not been seen in Louisiana for decades. Additionally, the land in question was deemed unsuitable for the frog, but the Service claimed that habitat can include areas that would require “some degree of modification.” The US Supreme Court disagreed.
Fish & Wildlife: Endangered and Threatened Species Interagency Cooperation: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/08/27/2019-17517/endangered-and-threatened-wildlife-and-plants-regulations-for-interagency-cooperation
Fish & Wildlife: Listing Species and Designation Critical Habitat: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/08/27/2019-17518/endangered-and-threatened-wildlife-and-plants-regulations-for-listing-species-and-designating
Fish & Wildlife: Prohibitions to Threatened Wildlife and Plants: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/08/27/2019-17518/endangered-and-threatened-wildlife-and-plants-regulations-for-listing-species-and-designating
Recently, a left-leaning Arizona federal judge, James Soto, who is an Obama appointee, shut down a proposed copper mining project for the flimsiest of reasons. He basically disregarded and rewrote federal mining law.
The current administration is receptive; we believe the time is ripe to push for a return to reasonable regulations and to restore mining to a priority for public lands as long as some new crisis doesn’t take precedent.
We're done watching as an unelected and unchecked bureaucracy, with rule-making authority, enforcement powers, and seemingly bottomless budgets abuses citizens at will.
Casperson said he is not worried about businesses subverting the language in the bill because the DEQ would still have the authority to halt the new construction if it is deemed environmentally unsound.
Since 2005, a group representing a handful of Oregon and Washington mining organizations, centered around the Eastern Oregon Mining Association (EOMA) and the Waldo Mining District (WMD), have been actively fighting the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) over their then new “700PM Suction Dredge Mining Permit.”
In May, 2016, the Andersons received a letter from Steve Niemela at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife requesting access to their property to conduct surveys for “foothill yellow-legged frogs and other amphibians.”
Landowners complained that mineral mining on or near their property could damage property values while leaving them without a cut of potential profits.
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