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

On August 11, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) released a new report that promotes constructive recommendations to modernize and improve the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) presented at a DOJ-hosted summit in December 2019.
Continue Reading DOJ Issues “Rich Menu of Options” for Congress to Revise the Administrative Procedure Act

The Treasury Department and IRS have issued long-awaited Proposed Regulations regarding the tax credit for carbon capture and sequestration under Section 45Q of the Code1 (the “section 45Q credit”).

Generally, the amount of the section 45Q credit and the party that is eligible to claim the credit depend on whether the taxpayer captures qualified carbon oxide using carbon capture equipment originally placed in service at a qualified facility before February 9, 2018 (“Old 45Q Facility”), or on or after February 9, 2018 (“New 45Q Facility”), and whether the taxpayer disposes of the qualified carbon oxide in geological storage (“sequestration”), uses it as a tertiary injectant in a qualified enhanced oil or natural gas recovery project (“EOR”), or utilizes the carbon oxide in certain specified ways (“utilization”). The effective date of the amendments to the Code extending and expanding the section 45Q credit is February 9, 2018 (the “Credit Effective Date”). The Credit Effective Date appears throughout the Proposed Regulations to distinguish between Old 45Q Facilities and New 45Q Facilities and establishing the effective date for certain provisions.
Continue Reading Treasury Issues Proposed Regulations on Section 45Q Tax Credit for Carbon Capture

As the Trump Administration is pushing forward on its deregulatory agenda and, in particular, its efforts to improve the Endangered Species Act and its implementation by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, the Supreme Court is poised to hear a landmark case on designation of critical habitat under the ESA that could provide some guideposts for the Services’ new regulations.
Continue Reading Supreme Court to Evaluate Critical Habitat Limits as Services Ramp up ESA Reform Efforts

Infrastructure takes a long time to permit in this country. Every president over the past 30-plus years has tried to streamline the federal permitting process for infrastructure.  In his first State of the Union, President Trump called for streamlining the federal permitting process so it would take “no more than two years, and perhaps, even one.”
Continue Reading Building Trump’s America

On January 22nd, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous (9-0) decision, authored by Justice Sotomayor, agreeing with industry groups, some eNGOs, and many states, that the district courts have jurisdiction over challenges to the 2015 Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) Rule. Nat’l Ass’n of Manufacturers v. Dept. of Defense, et al., No. 16-299 (Jan. 22, 2018). The Court wholly rejected the government’s claim that the WOTUS Rule is subject to exclusive appellate court jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act’s (CWA) judicial review provision and confirms that current and future challenges to the WOTUS Rule must be brought in district court. By reversing the Sixth Circuit decision which found that the CWA vests the federal courts of appeals with exclusive jurisdiction over challenges to the WOTUS Rule, the Supreme Court set in motion proceedings that will likely result in the lifting of the Sixth Circuit’s nationwide stay of the 2015 WOTUS Rule.
Continue Reading Agencies Move Quickly to Delay Applicability of 2015 WOTUS Rule Following Unanimous Supreme Court Decision

In 2016, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS or the Service) issued two policies on how to mitigate the impact of projects affecting fish and wildlife and natural resources: one overarching policy and one policy specific to Endangered Species Act implementation. Raising eyebrows, these mitigation policies were not limited to offsetting project impacts, but instead set a goal of improving the condition of affected resources.
Continue Reading Should Mitigation Meet a “Net Gain” Standard? USFWS is Reconsidering its Stance

When Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems on which they depend, it emphasized the need to strike the proper balance between protecting species and allowing productive human activities. Widespread concern that this balance has been lost has sparked movement within the Trump Administration and Congress to improve the ESA and its implementation. With these key changes, the Trump Administration and Congress could make significant progress to restore what many believe is the ESA’s intended balance between the protection of species and economic growth.
Continue Reading Catching Our Balance: Opportunities for ESA Reform

From the Penobscot River in Maine to the St. Mary’s River in Florida, the Atlantic sturgeon ranges, swimming periodically up river to spawn and returning to marine waters when it is done. With a lifespan of up to 60 years, the Atlantic sturgeon can grow up to 14 feet long and weigh up to 800 pounds, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Despite this species’ mighty proportions and vast range, five distinct population segments of the species have been listed by the as threatened or endangered.
Continue Reading From Maine to Florida, Designated Critical Habitat for Atlantic Sturgeon Will Complicate Federal Permitting