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.
On December 27, 2021, the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) issued a final nationwide permit (NWP) rule renewing a critical permitting tool for both the government and the regulated community. To comply with the Clean Water Act (CWA or the Act), projects with minimal adverse environmental effects can obtain authorization for the discharge of dredged or fill material into “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) through the Corps’ streamlined NWP process. With this rule, the Corps reissued 40 existing NWPs and one new NWP. These 41 NWPs will combine with 16 NWPs issued on January 13, 2021 to authorize use of the full suite of NWPs through March 14, 2026.
Continue Reading Army Corps Finalizes Nationwide Permit Renewal for Expedited Clean Water Act Permitting
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
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”
Determining which areas constitute habitat for listed species has important consequences under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA” or “Act”), yet “habitat” is not currently defined by the Act or its implementing regulations. On August 5, 2020, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (jointly, “the Services”) proposed a rule to define “habitat” for purposes of designating “critical habitat” under section 4 of the Endangered Species Act. See 85 Fed. Reg. 47,333 (Aug. 5, 2020). The Services’ proposal responds to the Supreme Court’s November 27, 2018, unanimous holding in Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 139 S. Ct. 361 (2018), that an area is eligible for designation as critical habitat under the ESA only if the area is actually habitat for that species. Accordingly, a final rule defining “habitat” would determine which areas of land and water are eligible for designation as critical habitat. Such designations can affect projects that require federal agency permits or funding, because ESA section 7 consultation requires federal agencies to ensure that their actions are not likely to adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat. The result for federally approved or funded projects can be increased permitting costs and risks, and longer timelines. The proposal’s comment period ended on September 4. Over 160,000 comments were submitted. Stakeholders now await a final rule.
Continue Reading Services Propose Definition of Habitat for ESA Regulations
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyses and Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7 consultations are high on the list of project time, cost and risk drivers. The impact of these environmental reviews on projects often turns on the scope of those reviews, which in turn depends on determining which effects will be caused by the action. In August 2019 the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service established, for the first time, a regulatory causation standard governing ESA section 7 consultations, and, in January 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality proposed a new regulatory causation standard governing NEPA reviews.
Continue Reading Streamlining NEPA and ESA Reviews: Importance of the Scope of Analysis
On November 4, 2019, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the Clean Water Act (CWA) section 404 permit issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for the extension of an existing phosphate mine in central Florida. Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, No. 18-10541 (11th Cir. Nov. 4, 2019). The Corps permit authorizes the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States that comprise a small portion of the mining extension. Opponents challenged the permit in the Middle District of Florida, claiming the issuance of the permit violated the CWA, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not considering “downstream” effects, and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The district court rejected all of the claims, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.
Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Confirms Proper Scope of NEPA Review Governing Corps Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit
The Endangered Species Act increasingly plays a larger role in environmental law and the federal permitting process for infrastructure projects. Hunton Andrews Kurth Partner Kerry McGrath and Associate Brian Levey give an inside look at the complex process of obtaining federal authorization for “take” of endangered species.
Continue Reading VIDEO Inside Look: Endangered Species Act (ESA)
On August 12, 2019, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service signed final rules instituting the first comprehensive revisions to Endangered Species Act regulations in 33 years. The Services made substantial revisions to their regulations concerning listing and delisting species, critical habitat designations, consultation with federal agencies and the process for establishing protections for threatened species. Two states and numerous environmental groups have signaled their plan to challenge the new rules. …
Continue Reading FWS and NMFS Complete Long-Awaited, Comprehensive Revision of ESA Regulations
Policy makers in California have pledged to resist Trump administration policy changes on environmental and other issues. Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), proposing the California Environmental, Public Health and Workers Defense Act of 2019, is the California legislature’s current preemptive response to the administration’s attempts to modify certain federal environmental and worker safety laws.
SB 1 has passed the California Senate. It is awaiting a final hearing in the State Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, likely sometime in mid‑to‑late August. After that, it moves to the Assembly floor, where a final vote is required by the end of California’s legislative session on September 13, 2019.
Continue Reading SB 1: California’s Attempt to Halt Federal Environmental and Worker Safety Deregulation