Endangered Species Act

On June 4, 2020, President Trump issued an Executive Order, “EO On Accelerating the Nation’s Economic Recovery from the Covid-19 Emergency by Expediting Infrastructure Investments and Other Activities” (“EO”) for the expressed purpose of forestalling “the likelihood of a potentially protracted economic recovery with persistent high unemployment,” EO, Sec. 1, resulting from the business closures necessitated by the onslaught of Covid-19. Predicated on the authority granted in the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. § 1601, et seq., and the Stafford Act, 42 U.S.C. § 5191(b), § 501(b), the President found that the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States constitutes “a national emergency that posed a threat to our national security.” EO, Sec. 1.

In order to “facilitate the Nation’s economic recovery,” EO, Sec. 2, the EO seeks to “speed infrastructure investments,” EO, Sec. 2, that will “strengthen the economy and return Americans to work, EO, Sec. 2, by, among other things, “expediting the delivery of transportation infrastructure projects, EO, Sec. 3, and civil works projects within the purview of the Army Corps of Engineers, EO, Sec. 4.

All these are laudable goals. The potential problem, however, is in the simultaneous abrogation of environmental protections in such statutes as the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1531, et seq., and Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1344, et seq., as well as other statutes administered by the Army Corps of Engineers. The most notable of these is the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321, et seq., (“NEPA”).Continue Reading Executive Order Presents a Trade-Off Between Infrastructure Investment and Environmental Regulation

President Obama took a huge step toward reversing the Bush Administration’s recently promulgated regulation allowing Federal agencies to forego consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service with respect to whether the Federal agencies’ activities will have an impact on the Endangered Species Act.  In his memo to "Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies," President Obama requests that the Departments of Interior and Commerce "to review the regulation issued on December 16, 2008, and to determine whether to undertake new rulemaking procedures with respect to consultative and concurrence processes that will promote the purposes of the ESA."

Since the Bush Administration rule was issued as a regulation, President Obama cannot through the use of an Executive Order rescind or overturn the regulation.  Thus, as an interim measure President Obama asked "the heads of all agencies to exercise their discretion, under the new regulation, to follow the prior longstanding consultation and concurrence practices involving the FWS and NMFS."

As a side note, it should be pointed out that the Senate is currently considering an Omnibus Appropriations Bill from the House that would allow the Obama Administration to rescind both the ESA rule and a rule issued in conjunction with last year’s listing of the polar bear as threatened under the ESA.  That rule exempted greehouse gas emissions and oil devleopment from regulation under the ESA even if they harmed the bears and their melting habitat.

Full text of President Obama’s Memorandum, as reported by the L.A. Times, follows on the next page.

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Continue Reading President Obama Calls for Review of Bush-Era Regulation Regarding Scientific Consultation on Endangered Species Act Concerns