On September 8, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers published a final rule in the Federal Register to amend the Agencies’ January 2023 “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) definition. 88 Fed. Reg. 61,964 (Sep. 8, 2023). According to the Agencies, these amendments conform that definition to the Supreme Court’s Sackett decision.
Continue Reading Agencies Issue Final Rule to Amend the 2023 “Waters of the United States” Definition

Yesterday, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (together, the Agencies) published a final rule revising the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) subject to federal regulation and permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act (CWA).  This rule is the latest attempt by the Agencies to craft a durable rule defining WOTUS.  The new rule, which largely mirrors the 2021 proposal, asserts a broader geographic scope of federal jurisdiction than the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR).  In particular, the Agencies adopt the broadest possible interpretation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Rapanos (through incorporation of both the plurality’s “relatively permanent” test and Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test).  The final rule would, for the first time, codify aspects of the Agencies’ 2008 Rapanos Guidance and would rely on the significant nexus test’s case-by-case approach for evaluating jurisdiction for tributaries, wetlands, and other waters.  The Agencies released the final rule while the Supreme Court considers the scope of CWA authority over a major category of WOTUS, “adjacent wetlands,” in Sackett v. EPA, and the Supreme Court could hand down a decision in the coming months that could require changes to the rule.Continue Reading EPA and Army Corps Issue New “WOTUS” Rule While Supreme Court Considers Jurisdiction Over Adjacent Wetlands

The lesser prairie-chicken (LPC) is a grouse that occupies a five-state range, including the western areas of Kansas and Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, eastern New Mexico, and southeastern Colorado.  As we explained in a previous article, in response to litigation and following a nearly thirty-year history of regulatory listing and delisting, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS or Service) proposed to re-list two distinct population segments (DPS) of the LPC under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in June, 2021.[1]  86 Fed. Reg. 29,432 (June 1, 2021).  The Service has now issued a final rule listing the Southern DPS of the LPC (covering southwest Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico) as endangered and the Northern DPS of the LPC (covering southwestern to southcentral Kansas, western Oklahoma, northeast Texas Panhandle, and southeast Colorado) as threatened under the ESA.  87 Fed. Reg. 72,674 (Nov. 25, 2022).  The rule becomes effective on January 24, 2023. Continue Reading Here We Go Again: Lesser Prairie-Chicken Re-Listed Under the Endangered Species Act

This week the US District Court for the Northern District of California overturned three Endangered Species Act (ESA) rules issued in 2019 that address: (1) listing species and designating critical habitat, (2) extending take prohibitions to threatened species, and (3) § 7 interagency consultation. Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, 19-05206 (N.D. Cal. July 5, 2022). The three rules were issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (together, the Services) in August 2019 and together represented the first comprehensive revisions to the ESA regulations in 33 years. The order has a number of important regulatory and caselaw implications. Continue Reading Court Vacatur of Comprehensive 2019 Endangered Species Act Rules Raises Big Questions

As we noted in our July 7 post, consistent with President Biden’s Executive Order 13990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (collectively, the “Services”) plan an ambitious redo of their Endangered Species Act (ESA) implementing regulations.  Kicking off that process, on October 27, 2021, the Services published two proposals in the Federal Register to rescind critical habitat regulations promulgated by the Trump Administration.  Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Regulations for Listing Endangered and Threatened Species and Designating Critical Habitat, 86 Fed. Reg. 59,346 and 86 Fed. Reg. 59,353 (Oct. 27, 2021).  Each of the proposed rules will be subject to a thirty-day public comment period – through November 26, 2021.  The Services may issue final rules by early 2022.
Continue Reading Services Kick Off Revisions to the Endangered Species Act Regulations

Consistent with President Biden’s Executive Order (EO) 13990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (collectively, the “Services”) recently announced that they “will initiate rulemaking in the coming months to revise, rescind, or reinstate five [Endangered Species Act] regulations finalized by the prior administration.” The Biden Administration is the third consecutive administration to undertake revisions to the Services’ Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) regulations. The Administration’s Spring 2021 Unified Agenda provides general timeframes for the proposed actions, each of which will go through a notice and comment rulemaking process.
Continue Reading ESA Rules Redux: Services Plan a Second (and, in Some Cases, Third) Look at the ESA Regulations

The lesser prairie-chicken—a grouse whose range covers the western portions of Kansas and Oklahoma; the Texas Panhandle, including the Llano Estacado; eastern New Mexico; and southeastern Colorado—is subject to yet another proposed listing under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  On June 1, 2021, the US Fish & Wildlife Service (“FWS” or the “Service”) proposed to re-list two distinct population segments (“DPS”) of the species.  86 Fed. Reg. 29,432 (June 1, 2021).  The proposal is subject to a 60‑day public comment period, through August 2.  FWS is expected to issue a final decision within a year.
Continue Reading Lesser Prairie-Chicken Faces Re-Listing Under the Endangered Species Act

A December 2020 final rule defining “habitat” could have important consequences for future designations of lands and waters as “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Designation of critical habitat by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service (jointly, the “Services”) can affect projects that require federal agency permits or funding, because ESA section 7 requires federal agencies to ensure through consultation with the Services that their actions are not likely to adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.

On December 16, 2020, the Services adopted, for the first time, a regulatory definition of habitat, as follows:

For the purposes of designating critical habitat only, habitat is the abiotic and biotic setting that currently or periodically contains the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.
Continue Reading Federal Wildlife Agencies Issue Final Regulatory Definition of “Habitat”

Regulatory staff continue to advance the Administration’s regulatory agenda, including issuing proposed and final rules. This blog post highlights the status of key natural resource regulatory actions.
Continue Reading COVID-19 and the CRA Deadline: Status of the Natural Resources Regulatory Agenda

The Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak is affecting virtually every sector of society and the economy. The healthcare sector and government agencies are on the front lines of the response. Providing support to these critical response activities as well as striving to maintain the strength of the overall economy by continuing regular business operations is vitally important. The private sector has important roles to play. The purpose of this blog post is to briefly outline some practical and legal tools available to help provide both direct support and maintain broader economic activities while ensuring environmental protection and compliance with natural resource laws.

This blog post will be updated as new or relevant information becomes available.Continue Reading Tools for Navigating Natural Resource Laws During a National Emergency