National Governors Association formally backs ESA policy reform. Last week, the bipartisan National Governors Association (NGA) published a formal policy position endorsing Endangered Species Act (ESA) reforms, despite pushback from some conservation groups. The principles include a call to rely on science to prevent unnecessary additions to the ESA list and to enhance the role of state governments in recovering listed species.
One provision called for defining, replacing, or eliminating “vague terms, such as foreseeable future,” particularly as agencies grapple with how climate change should impact listing and delisting decisions. Another provision addressed the strict deadlines set by conservation groups who use litigation to force agencies to complete listing decisions for certain species. In response, NGA called for greater “federal regulatory flexibility to prioritize, review and make decisions on petitions.” NGA spokeswoman Elena Waskey said that assuming a formal stance serves as an opportunity to engage in conversation around the ESA and allows governors to be involved in Congressional action.
These reforms closely resemble a proposal unanimously endorsed by the Western Governors’ Association last year. NGA has yet to formally endorse any ESA-related legislation or action in the new Congress.
Piecemeal reforms to ESA re-introduced in Congress. House Republicans last week re-introduced two bills that would increase transparency and apply greater weight to state data in ESA listing decisions. H.R. 1274 would direct agencies to treat state data on species as the “best scientific and commercial data available,” while H.R. 1273 requires agencies to post all of the data used in listing decisions online. Previous versions of both bills passed the House in prior sessions of Congress and stand a good chance of passing again amidst a renewed desire for ESA reform in Washington.
Both bills were introduced by Representative Dan Newhouse (R-WA), who said “These bills would make the ESA listing process more accountable to states, tribes, and local entities by requiring federal agencies to consider local input.” Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) has introduced a related ESA transparency bill in the Senate and Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) reintroduced a bill to amend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act exempting farmers from some federal fines.
Idaho planning sage-grouse mitigation credit program. The task force that created Idaho’s sage-grouse management plan is now drafting a program that would offer credits to mitigate development within sage-grouse habitat. Those seeking to develop projects that would impact sage-grouse habitat would purchase credits to offset any harm from the project, and the funds raised through the program would be used to improve habitat throughout the state.
Idaho’s mitigation credits would not be traded on an open market, a key difference from similar programs planned for Wyoming, Nevada, and Colorado. Instead, the state would offer the credits directly to interested buyers, such as farmers and ranchers, who could improve sage-grouse habitat on their property.
John Robinson, a public director with the Idaho Conservation League who serves on the task force, said the group is “trying to figure out how to customize the mitigation plan for Idaho’s needs.” There is less demand for mitigation in Idaho than in other states, allowing Idaho to adopt simpler approach. “This is a proactive effort by the state to get something in place so we could fend off future federal efforts,” said Randy Vranes of Monsanto, who also serves on the committee.
In the News
IPAA’S Barry Russell — 2017: A year for America’s energy resurgence. The Hill (Op-Ed). Over the past decade, the U.S. oil and natural gas industry has capitalized on new opportunities while navigating unchartered challenges. The shale revolution provided previously inaccessible, affordable energy for American consumers, yet duplicative federal regulations imposed new costs and delays. Producers and service companies continued to look for new ways to innovate and cut costs in the face of a dramatic downturn in commodity prices stemming from shifts in global markets. These regulatory and market realities are nothing new for this century-old industry, but, with new leadership in Washington and markets rebounding, it is time to move forward. The Trump administration and Congress have an opportunity to foster a new resurgence in energy development and support the thousands of small businesses and millions of workers that comprise this vital domestic industry.
Bipartisan bill would undo ruling on habitat lawsuits. E&E News (sub req’d). Lawmakers from both parties and both sides of the Capitol are backing legislation to discourage Endangered Species Act lawsuits against the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The “Litigation Relief for Forest Management Projects Act” was authored by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and has secured the co-sponsorship of Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Reps. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). The bill would effectively overturn a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that found the nonprofit Cottonwood Environmental Law Center had legal standing to sue the federal government over a critical habitat designation for the Canada lynx, a large-pawed cat that is on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s threatened species list.
Endangered Species Pesticide Case Could Wrap Up Quickly. Bloomberg BNA. A federal judge appeared ready to move quickly in deciding a court case challenging the EPA’s approval of a pesticide under the Endangered Species Act (Center for Biol. Diversity v. EPA, D.C., 14-1036, 1/11/17). Attorneys for the Center for Biological Diversity and the Department of Justice argued before a three-judge panel on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Mar. 6 over details of which court— the appeals court or the lower district court—should rule on whether the Environmental Protection Agency violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in licensing a pesticide that may harm rare insects. A decision in the district court—an outcome favored by the Center for Biological Diversity—would conform with procedures under the ESA. Under the species-protection law, challenges from citizen groups must begin in federal district courts. A court decision in favor of the center would likely set a precedent for challenges against numerous pesticides.
South Carolina groups sue to protect Endangered Species Act. Post and Courier. Four conservation groups, including the Charleston-based Coastal Conservation League, have asked a federal judge to let them testify against a lawsuit filed by 18 states to loosen Endangered Species Act “critical habitat” restrictions. The group of states includes South Carolina. Their lawsuit challenges a new provision to the act that allows habitats to be designated as critical regardless of whether they currently are occupied by a creature or plant that the designation is designed to protect. The rule is meant to provide migrating corridors that research shows are critical to the some species. The states argue the rule, put in place during the Obama administration, means that entire states could be designated as critical habitat, according to E&E News, an energy and environment publication.
EPA budget draft stirs questions about endangered species. Daily Nebraskan. As the new administration is taking over the government, people are worried about the state of the environment, biodiversity and the laws that protect it such as the Endangered Species Act. In an Environmental Protection Agency budget draft, the Trump Administration wants to remove programs that slow climate change and help air and water quality and use that money for military spending instead. Republican lawmakers are also planning on rolling back the ESA because of complaints that it impedes drilling, logging and construction. Joel Sartore, a photographer for National Geographic said the environment is taking a backseat in the government to military spending and economic opportunities, regardless of the negative impacts to the planet. He said the Environmental Protection Agency faces cuts of up to 25 percent and there have already been talks of cutting the Endangered Species Act. However, Sartore said he encourages people to continue to stay positive, keep a level head and work to save species.
In major reversal, court upholds FWS delisting in Wyo. E&E News (sub req’d). A federal appeals court today upheld the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2012 decision to remove gray wolves in Wyoming from the endangered species list. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that FWS reasonably found that Wyoming had adequate plans to ensure a healthy population. The decision reverses a lower-court ruling that restored federal protections for the wolves. “The record demonstrates that the Service reasonably and adequately responded to concerns about the reliability of Wyoming’s management plan,” Judge Judith Rogers, a Clinton appointee, wrote for the court. Judges Janice Rogers Brown, a George W. Bush appointee, and Cornelia Pillard, an Obama appointee, heard the case with Rogers. The Fish and Wildlife Service has tried for nearly a decade to turn northern Rocky Mountain wolves in Wyoming over to state control, but up to now it has been rebuffed by the courts.