Trump’s Supreme Court picks could reshape Endangered Species Act. President-elect Trump is set to nominate a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia early this year, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy are expected to retire before the end of his first term. Legal experts believe Trump will instigate a dramatic shift towards a more conservative Supreme Court that could restrict the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“You could very easily see the ESA on the chopping block in the Supreme Court,” Vermont Law School professor Pat Parenteau told Greenwire. A more conservative court would likely limit the federal government’s authority to regulate threatened and endangered species and designate critical habitat. The Court could prevent the government from designating critical habitat in areas where a species does not currently exist, as is the case with the dusky gopher frog. The Court could also decide to reverse the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that allowed the federal government to designate species as “threatened” based on projected future climate change.
Daniel Rohlf, a law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, suggested that conservative justices could also impact the quantity and quality of lawsuits brought under the law. More entities may be permitted to challenge ESA protections, Rohlf said, while environmental groups may face a greater burden with litigation designed to enforce the law.
Administration proposes mining limits to protect sage-grouse. The Obama administration has put forth five possible proposals to protect the greater sage-grouse by restricting future mining activity on land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and Oregon. The stipulations of the different proposals range from preventing all future mining for 15,000 square miles of property—either owned exclusively by the BLM or where the BLM has subsurface rights—or taking no action at all. According to the press release, existing mining and exploration projects that have already been approved can continue and energy companies would still be allowed to drill and extract from restricted lands if they use directional drilling at a far enough distance.
But some environmental groups say the proposals do not go far enough. Randi Spivak of the Center for Biological Diversity says all mining is harmful to sage grouse but that Trump’s Interior Secretary-Elect Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) has a chance to protect the bird through conservation efforts. On the other side of the spectrum, Republican Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) sees all of the proposals as an “11th-hour attack on Nevada and the West” and has pledged to overturn any mining restrictions. None of the proposals will be enacted before President Obama leaves office. Instead, the Trump administration will have a 90-day comment period to decide whether or not to move forward with any of the five proposals.
Murkowski asks BLM to reconsider proposed petroleum reserve limitations. Last week Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) sent a letter to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) asking the agency to reconsider their draft of a Regional Mitigation Strategy that would impose new constraints on oil and gas development in Alaska. The strategy would require oil companies to pay for unavoidable impacts to endangered and threatened species while operating in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A).
Obama administration officials say the plan was designed to balance environmental conservation and energy development, but Murkowski said the draft would be duplicative and burdensome on oil and gas companies. The senator called the draft “deeply flawed” and a part of the Obama administration’s larger efforts to “impose a damaging policy in Alaska in its final days.” She also said the strategy “fails to account for existing, ongoing mitigation measures, and lacks any direction on how to navigate the multitude of plans, processes, and overlapping federal requirements relating to mitigation.” Other industry voices have echoed the senator’s sentiments and urged the incoming administration to provide better accessibility to oil-rich federal lands and reduce government regulation on drilling in the area.
In the News
Federal judge tosses Otter’s sage grouse lawsuit against Obama administration. Idaho Statesman. A federal judge in Washington D.C. ruled Thursday against Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s challenge to the Obama administration’s sage grouse plan covering Idaho and southwest Montana. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan found that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the state’s claims –saying that because the state didn’t make any actual claims of actual harm flowing from the plans, there wasn’t a case to hear. He did not rule on the merits of the case. Sullivan ruled that while the plan contains binding commitments efforts by Idaho to show the loss of revenue from restrictions on oil and gas development, grazing and other development were to speculative to put before the court.
WAFWA secures conservation easement for prairie chicken. Dodge City Daily Globe. The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has finalized permanent conservation agreements with a private landowner to conserve 1,781 acres of high-quality lesser prairie-chicken habitat in south-central Kansas. This is the first permanent conservation easement in the mixed-grass prairie region secured as part of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Plan. The conserved acreage is all native rangeland currently being managed for livestock production, and this historical use will continue. The property is occupied by lesser prairie-chickens and is located within one of the highest priority conservation areas identified in the range-wide plan.
Where and how the Atlantic Coast Pipeline could affect what’s along its route. Metro News. A federal examination of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline includes how the project might affect underground terrain, sinkholes, forests, sensitive species like Indiana bats, groundwater, wildlife, property values, the economy and more. Five federally-listed species — Indiana bat, Northern long-eared bat, Roanoke logperch, running buffalo clover and Madison Cave isopod — could be affected by the pipeline project, FERC concluded. The pipeline developers should describe potential effects and develop species-specific conservation measures with applicable state agencies, the federal regulators recommended. The agency also recommends continued studies of what species might be affected and how.
Battle begins over major GOP reform push. E&E News (sub req’d). As the 115th Congress kicks off this week, Republicans plan to immediately flex their muscles by deploying a host of legislative tools aimed at attacking an array of Obama-era regulations — from the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule to elements of bedrock environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act. Two regulatory rollback measures are already on the agenda.
Will industry plan further harm bats? Columbus Dispatch. Nature’s pesticide is dying in droves. A single little brown bat can eat as many as 2,000 insects in a single night. But the species has suffered an estimated mortality rate of as high as 99 percent, driven by a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome that hit several years ago and continues to plague bats in Ohio, 29 other states and four Canadian provinces. Since 2011, Ohio’s hibernating bat populations have plummeted by 90 percent, she said. Last month, Ohio’s oil and gas industry got into the mix. Nine companies have co-applied for a permit to continue conducting exploration, production and maintenance activities in areas where a handful of bat species live.
Endangered species history precedes cabinet contender. Bloomberg BNA. A contender for Trump administration posts carries a reputation on endangered species and pesticide issues in her home state of Texas—a history that has earned praise from industry leaders and pans from environmentalists, who say the free-market approach to conservation puts rare species at risk. Susan Combs, who served both as Texas agricultural commissioner and state comptroller under Republican Govs. George W. Bush and Rick Perry, has been under consideration for agriculture secretary under President-elect Donald Trump. As head of the agency, Combs led the charge to develop the Texas Conservation Plan, an effort to avoid listing the dunes sagebrush lizard under the Endangered Species Act—a move that would have required landowners to take on measures to protect habitat for the sand-dwelling reptile.
Western US sagebrush defense plan will endure, official says. Associated Press. A new wildfire-fighting plan to protect a wide swath of sagebrush country in the Western U.S. that supports cattle ranching and is home to an imperiled bird will likely continue after the Obama administration ends, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Tuesday. Her 2015 secretarial order to protect sagebrush steppe spanning an area stretching from the Dakotas west to Oregon, Washington and northern California is considered by public lands experts, outdoor enthusiasts and scientists as one of the most significant federal land policy changes since the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934. It regulated public lands to prevent overgrazing. She said she will pass along information from that meeting to Republican Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to succeed her.