In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. FWS, 139 S.Ct. 361 (2018), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has issued a series of proposals to refine the scope, meaning, and criteria for designating critical habitat for species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The most recent proposal will be published in the Federal Register on September 8, 2020, kicking off a 30-day public comment period.

Continue Reading FWS Issues Additional Habitat Proposal

On July 31, 2020, the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively, the “Services”) released an advance copy of a proposed rule defining “habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The proposed rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register this week, kicking off a 30-day public comment period.
Continue Reading Definition of Habitat Proposed for the ESA

Yesterday, the U.S. District Court for Montana amended its April 15, 2020, order vacating Nationwide Permit (NWP) 12, which authorizes minimal impacts from “utility line activities” to jurisdictional waters. As we previously reported, despite the case centering on the Keystone XL Pipeline, the court’s April 15 order vacated NWP 12 nationwide for all activities (including broadband, electric, water and sewer) until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) consults with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (Services) pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In yesterday’s order, the court amended the vacatur’s applicability by limiting it to the construction of new oil and gas pipelines. Under the amended order, the Corps may continue to authorize the use of NWP 12 for construction of new utility lines for broadband, electric, water, and sewer, as well as “maintenance, inspection, and repair activities” on existing utility lines, including existing pipelines.

Continue Reading Montana District Court Limits Its Vacatur of Nationwide Permit 12

As we previously reported, the Federal District Court for Montana vacated the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) Nationwide Permit (NWP) 12 on April 15, 2020, finding that the Corps had failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service prior to issuing NWP 12. Despite the case centering on the Keystone XL Pipeline, the court’s decision vacated NWP 12 nationwide and prevents the Corps from authorizing a broad range of utility projects that are unrelated to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Continue Reading Update: Corps Seeks Stay of Montana District Court’s NWP 12 Ruling

On January 30, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) released its anticipated Migratory Bird Treaty Act (“MBTA”) proposed rule. The purpose of the proposed rule is to codify the December 2017 Department of Interior (“DOI”) Solicitor opinion (“M-Opinion”) limiting liability under the MBTA. The M-Opinion overturned an earlier Obama Administration M-Opinion explicitly finding that MBTA liability applied to incidental take.

Continue Reading Trump Administration Releases Anticipated MBTA Proposed Rule

On January 28, in Center for Biological Diversity v. Everson, No. 1:15-cv-00477 (D.D.C. 2020), the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia remanded, but did not vacate, the United States Fish and Wildlife Services’ (“USFWS”) April 2015 decision to list the northern long-eared bat (“NLEB”) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). The court also vacated a component of the USFWS and National Marine Fisheries Services (collectively, “Services”) significant portion of its range policy (the “SPR Policy”) regarding how to evaluate whether a species is endangered in a “significant portion of its range” once a determination has been made that the species is threatened throughout “all of its range.” The SPR Policy, issued in 2014, has formed the basis for other listing decisions and thus its vacatur has implications beyond the NLEB.

Continue Reading Federal District Court Remands Northern-Long Eared Bat Listing Decision

On January 10, 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published the long-awaited proposed rule to amend its regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).  The statute, sometimes pejoratively referred to as a “paper-tiger,” requires a federal agency to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of certain proposed projects, but does not mandate any particular outcome.

Continue Reading Council on Environmental Quality Proposes Long-Awaited NEPA Regulations Overhaul

On August 12, 2019 the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) and National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) (collectively, the “Services”) released pre-publication versions of three final rules that are expected to significantly affect the applicability and implementation of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  These regulations relate to the process and standards for listing species and designating critical habitat, the scope of protections for threatened species, and the process for consultations with federal agencies under Section 7.

Continue Reading Trump Administration Finalizes Broad Changes to Endangered Species Act Regulations

On May 23, 2019, the Center for Biological Diversity and San Francisco Baykeeper (collectively “Center”) filed a lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California alleging the Service failed to protect eight species under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  The eight species at issue are the longfin smelt (San Francisco Bay-Delta population), Hermes copper butterfly, Marron bacora (a plant), Sierra Nevada red fox, red tree vole (North Coast population), gopher tortoise (eastern population), Berry Cave Salamander, and Puerto Rico harlequin butterfly.  Each of the eight species is currently a “candidate” for listing.  The Service previously found that each species warranted protection under the ESA, but that listing was warranted but precluded (“WBP”) due to the need to focus on other higher priority species.    
Continue Reading Fish and Wildlife Service Faces Challenge on Delay in Listing Species

On May 1, 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS” or “Service”) issued a proposed rule “downlisting” Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) protections for the American burying beetle from endangered to threatened. The burying beetle was listed as endangered in 1989 and its listing has been particularly impactful to oil and gas development in Texas and Oklahoma.  Once with a range across thirty-five states, the beetle’s range when listed had been depleted to just two areas—Oklahoma and Rhode Island.  The Service states that, due to the success of mitigation programs, that the beetle now inhabits nine states (Arkansas, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Texas) warranting the downlisting.  The Service states that the downlisting was the result of collaborative work with industry, but opponents argue that that the rollback of protections will negatively affect the species by opening up parts of Oklahoma to drilling and removing obstacles from drillers in Texas.

Continue Reading Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Downlisting of the American Burying Beetle