On April 26, 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) issued a memorandum addressing the need for an incidental take permit (“ITP”) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the modification of listed species’ habitat (“ITP Memo”). As background, under the ESA, the “take” of an endangered species is prohibited. This prohibition has been extended to threatened species through a blanket 4(d) rule. In certain circumstances, take that is not purposeful and occurs incidental to some other action can be authorized through the issuance of an ITP.
On April 2, 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) submitted three proposed rules to the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”), which is charged with reviewing every final and proposed federal agency rule before its publication in the Federal Register. These proposals, if implemented, will significantly change USFWS’ implementation of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).
Last week, the Center for Biological Diversity, Water Keeper Alliance, and a coalition of other organizations served a Notice of Intent to Sue the U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers (the “Agencies”), alleging the Agencies’ delay in implementing the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. (“WOTUS”) Rule violated the Endangered Species Act.
On Monday February 12, President Trump unveiled his long-awaited infrastructure plan. According to President Trump, our country’s infrastructure “is in an unacceptable state of disrepair, which damages our country’s competitiveness and our citizens’ quality of life.” While some view the plan as a step toward streamlining an environmental review process that could delay a project unnecessarily, others worry the proposal could curtail the authority federal agencies exercise over environmental reviews pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The plan calls for $200 billion to be spent rebuilding roads, bridges, highways, railways, waterways, and other infrastructure over the next ten years. That money will come from cuts to other programs (particularly within the Department of Transportation) and is not intended—at least as proposed—to come from new revenue streams. According to President Trump, the proposed changes will generate approximately $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure investment.
The scope and definition of critical habitat under Section 4 of the Endangered Species Act has been a controversial subject. In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 6,477 acres of land in Louisiana (including 1,600 privately-owned acres) as critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog, despite the fact that the frogs have not been seen in the state for decades. Timber company Weyerhauser Co. and private landowner Markle Interests LLC filed suit challenging that designation. Subsequent to the critical habitat designation for the dusky gopher frog, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively, “the Services”) promulgated new critical habitat rules that authorized, among other things, the designation of areas where a species was not actually present as critical habitat for that species. Thus, the outcome of this case has significant implications for these 2016 rules.
On December 22, 2017, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) reversed course and issued a Memorandum interpreting the scope of criminal liability under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and its applicability to “incidental takings,” which the Memorandum defines as a death or other “take” that “results from an activity, but [that] is not the purpose of that activity.” In short, the Memorandum concludes that criminal liability under the MBTA should not be interpreted to extend to incidental takes, and instead only applies to “affirmative actions that has as their purpose the taking or killing of migratory birds, their nests, or their eggs.” This Memorandum will provide significant needed clarity to renewable energy projects and many other industries that perform activities with the potential to indirectly, and non-purposefully, impact migratory birds during development, construction, or operation.
Previously, we reported on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (“USFWS”) issuance of the final ESA Compensatory Mitigation Policy (“ESA-CMP”), the first comprehensive treatment of compensatory mitigation under the Endangered Species Act. Endangered Species Act Compensatory Mitigation Policy, 81 FR 95316 (Dec. 27, 2016). The policy formalizes the Services’ shift from project-by-project to landscape-scale approaches to planning and implementing compensatory mitigation. We also reported on the Services’ issuance of a final revised Mitigation Policy in November 2016 intended to serve as an overall umbrella strategy under which more detailed Service sub-policies or guidance documents covering specific activities would be issued. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mitigation Policy, 81 FR 83440 (Nov. 21, 2016). Both policies focus on using mitigation to achieve a “net conservation benefit.”
Troutman Sanders has formed a new group, Species Strategies and Solutions (S3), which will track policy, regulatory, legislative, and litigation developments regarding federally-protected wildlife and plants. Initiatives to address infrastructure projects, and how those initiatives relate to species-related review requirements, will also be featured. S3 will be focused primarily on national-level species-related developments that have the potential to affect construction and operation of projects in those sectors. S3 is not a lobbying or advocacy group; rather, its purpose is to facilitate a better understanding of the issues associated with compliance with the Endangered Species Act, and strategies for addressing those issues. Continue Reading Troutman Sanders Forms Group Focused on Species Issues
On August 17, 2017, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) published in the Federal Register a final rule designating over 3,900 river miles along the east coast as critical habitat for five distinct population segments (“DPS”) of Atlantic Sturgeon (New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina, South Atlantic and Gulf of Maine). The agency chose these areas based on the presence of “physical or biological factors” (PBFs) essential for the conservation of the species and that may require special management considerations or protection. Back in 2012, NMFS had listed each of the five Atlantic Sturgeon DPS as either endangered or threatened. 77 Fed. Reg. 5880; 77 Fed. Reg. 5914. Once a species is listed, the relevant agencies must identify critical habitat for the species. Under the ESA, impacts to critical habitat must be evaluated in federal permitting actions, in addition to impacts to the species itself.
On May 23rd, the Trump administration released its full fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, continuing its call for significant funding cuts for many EPA programs. Consistent with the framework outlined in the administration’s “skinny” budget issued earlier in March, the proposal would cut EPA’s overall budget by 31.4 percent, reducing overall spending from $8 billion in 2017 to $5.7 billion for 2018. The plan would eliminate approximately 20 percent of the agency’s workforce, reducing the number of staff from over 15,000 to approximately 11,600, a reduction of approximately 3,800 jobs.