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. 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.
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
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”
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
The first comprehensive revision of the NEPA implementing regulations in over forty years goes into effect today. Litigants sought a preliminary injunction to block implementation of the rule nationwide, but their motion was denied by a district court late last week. While litigation is ongoing in three district courts, the new rule will apply to all new NEPA reviews started on or after September 14, 2020, and agencies will have discretion to apply the new rule to ongoing NEPA reviews initiated before September 14.
Continue Reading After Surviving Preliminary Injunction Motion, New NEPA Rule Becomes Effective Today
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)
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