Posts in Congress.

As we previously reported, more than 150 organizations have requested that the Department of the Interior (DOI) extend the public comment period associated with DOI’s proposed changes to how it will process requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (Proposed Regulations) by no less than 120 days due, in part, to the partial government shutdown.  Without referencing or responding to these multiple requests, DOI announced that it will extend the comment period for the Proposed Regulations by a single day. According to the announcement from DOI, the ...

The longest partial government shutdown in United States history is taking its toll on Endangered Species Act (ESA) policy initiatives championed by the Trump Administration, and is making ESA compliance and project completion significantly more difficult for a wide spectrum of industries. In July 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service published proposed changes to ESA implementing regulations relating to species listings, de-listings, critical habitat designations, and consultations under section 7 of the ESA. The ...

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The effects of the partial Federal government shutdown are being felt at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("Service"). The shutdown has virtually halted the Service's processing of pending rulemakings under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"). As an example, while the comment period on the Service's proposed designation of 370 miles of critical habitat for the endangered candy darter (Etheostoma osburni) -- a freshwater fish found in portions of West Virginia and Virginia -- ran from November to January, the Service has posted only a handful of responsive comments online, with ...

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On August 10, 2018, the representative from Indiana's 4th Congressional District introduced a bill entitled: "To amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to remove freshwater mussels from the list of endangered and threatened species."  While the text of the bill isn't yet available, based on the title of the bill one can reasonably surmise that the author of the bill believes that freshwater mussels are not deserving of Endangered Species Act protection.  Further, this interpretation is supported by recent articles detailing the representative's long-running ...

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In recent weeks, the Trump Administration and Congress have proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and its implementing regulations. Lawmakers from the Congressional Western Caucus introduced nine bills that would, according to the 15 legislators that introduced the bills, amend and modernize the ESA.  The lawmakers assert that the bills would also incentivize voluntary conservation efforts, let states enter into cooperative agreements for recovery, and prioritize data from local communities in making scientific decisions about conservation.

The bills ...

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The most comprehensive Endangered Species Act (ESA) bill of this Congressional session made its debut on July 2, 2018 when Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, released a discussion draft of a bill proposing sweeping revisions to the ESA.  The discussion draft is a culmination of activity that began February 15, 2017, when the EPW committee held an oversight hearing on modernization of the ESA. Following that hearing, Senator Barrasso worked closely with the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) in drafting the ...

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The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act (Act) (H.R. 2083), co-sponsored by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), allowing for the lethal removal of California and Steller sea lions (Zalophus californianus and Eumetopias jubatus) to protect endangered salmon (populations of Oncorhynchus nerka, Oncorhynchus kisutch, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, and Salmo salar), steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss), and other native fish species.  The Act provides tribal members and government ...

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On May 16, 2018, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed six bills, including the Federally Integrated Species Health Act (H.R. 3916).  H.R. 3916 is sponsored by Representative Ken Calvert, a Republican representing the 42nd Congressional District in California.  The bill proposes to amend the federal Endangered Species Act to vest the Secretary of Interior with Endangered Species Act authority over fish species that migrate between fresh and ocean waters, such as the endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinnok salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha).  ...

On April 11, 2018, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed into law H.B. 2238, which amended the state’s administrative procedure laws to provide that courts are not required to defer to an agency’s legal interpretation in lawsuits over administrative decisions. The amendment effectively eliminated Chevron deference, which requires courts to defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute.

The legal doctrine—named for the 1984 Supreme Court decision in Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resource Defense Counsel, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 842-844 ...

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Long ago, the framers of the Constitution decided to separate the federal government's powers into three branches, with each branch acting as a check on the other.  Broadly speaking, the legislative branch writes the law, the judicial branch decides what the law means, and the executive branch decides how to enforce the law.  Sometimes, however, the powers can overlap among the branches.

For example, besides writing the laws, the legislative branch also approves the budgets for the various federal agencies.  And if a particular agency budget does not include funds for ...

On November 8, 2017, the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources approved an amendment to oil and gas-related legislation, the SECURE Act (H.R. 4239), that is intended to obviate liability for the incidental or accidental take of migratory birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 16 U.S.C. § 703 et seq. (Act).  The amendment, submitted by Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY), provides: This Act shall not be construed to prohibit any activity proscribed by section 2 of this Act that is accidental or incidental to the presence or operation of an otherwise lawful ...

In July we reported on five bills that propose to amend various aspects of the Endangered Species Act:

  • H.R. 2603 - would remove listings of non-native species;
  • H.R. 717 - would modify the process for listing determinations;
  • H.R. 3131 - would require a party to prevail in order to recover attorneys' fees and place a cap on fees;
  • H.R. 1274 - would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make listing determination data available to impacted states; and
  • H.R. 424 - would require the Department of the Interior to reissue final rules relating to the listing of the gray wolf in the ...

On March 29, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held (PDF) that Congress has authority under the Commerce Clause to regulate the take of the Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens).  Because Congress has this authority, it could authorize the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to do the same.

The Utah prairie dog lives only in Utah.  Approximately 70 percent of the species’ population is on nonfederal land.  It was originally listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973, but was reclassified as threatened in 1984.  At the time it was ...

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On March 1, 2017, the Senate confirmed Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) as Secretary of the Interior in a 68-31 bipartisan vote.  He was sworn into the Cabinet later that day by Vice President Mike Pence.  Zinke was able to attract 16 Democratic votes, with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Or.) stating that he believes Zinke will focus on doing his job, which includes protecting our special places and managing the forests already within the Interior Department's control, instead of engaging in senseless reorganization of bureaucracies.  Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski ...

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On January 20, 2017, Reince Priebus, the White House Chief of Staff and Assistant to the President, issued a memorandum to the heads of all executive departments and agencies ordering them to freeze the processing of all regulations.  The stated intent of this action is to ensure that the President’s appointees or designees have the opportunity to review any new or pending regulations.  At the outset, the memo states that, with the exception of regulations addressing any emergency situations or urgent circumstances relating to health, safety, financial, or national security ...

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In a year that has already seen its fair share of attempts to reform the Endangered Species Act (ESA), another proposal has made its way into the House of Representatives.  Representatives Don Young (R-Alaska) and Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) introduced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 5650) on July 7, 2016.  The bill is based on a plan unveiled by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America's Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources four months ago.

H.R. 5650 would direct approximately $1.3 billion each year from federal energy and mineral development revenues into state-led ...

As recently reported by the Center for Biological Diversity, a rider has been proposed for an appropriations bill that would provide $1.5 billion to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2017.  The controversial rider would remove current Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolf populations in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Wyoming.  The appropriations bill, which is currently making its way through the House of Representatives, was before the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies on May 25, 2016 ...

On May, 17, 2016, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Water and Energy held hearings on a number of pending bills, including S. 2533, sponsored by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA).  The bill, titled California Long-Term Provisions for Water Supply and Short-Term Provisions for Emergency Drought Relief Act, is aimed at providing short-term water supplies to drought-stricken California and providing for long-term investments in drought resiliency throughout the Western United States.

Among its many provisions, S. 2533 invests $1.3 ...

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This week, two congressional committees are holding three separate hearings on issues related to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  On April 19, the House Committee on Natural Resources will hold an oversight hearing entitled Recent Changes to Endangered Species Critical Habitat Designation and Implementation.  On April 20 and 21, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Interior will hold two hearings to discuss delisting under the ESA.  Nossaman partner, Robert D. Thornton, will testify at the committee hearing on April 20.

The hearing before the Natural ...

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Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R) and Rep. Matt Salmon (R) recently introduced a bill (pdf) that would remove several western states from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and move them to a newly created Twelfth Circuit.  If the bill is passed as drafted, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands would remain in the Ninth Circuit.  The new Twelfth Circuit would be comprised of Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, and Nevada.

Two other senators also introduced similar legislation (pdf).  Under the bill proposed by Montana Sen. Steve ...

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On January 20, 2015, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works approved S. 659, the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015, which complements the bill reported by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee late last year.  However, the Environment and Public Works Committee’s approval adds a number of controversial amendments to the Act’s overarching purpose of increasing recreational hunting, fishing, shooting, conservation, and other access on public lands.  An amendment offered by Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), and approved by voice vote, would delist ...

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After weeks of negotiations, on December 18, 2015, Congress finally approved the Fiscal Year 2016 omnibus spending bill.  One hotly debated issue related to the controversial greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus).  Republicans had hoped to include a rider rolling back the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service’s sage grouse conservation plans across 67 million acres in several Western states, including California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.  This rider was ultimately cut from the ...

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Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a bill last week to help address ongoing and future drought in California. The bill, known as the California Emergency Drought Relief Act (Act), is expected to be folded into broader legislation addressing the historic drought in the Western United States. The bill’s goals are to move existing water supplies and develop new  water sources in order to help those communities suffering the worst effects of the drought, while complying with the existing regulatory regime under the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Senator ...

Whether dealing with water or with endangered species directly, there have been a number of recent developments that are worth keeping on your radar.  Below is a quick summary of some of the more significant items:

July 16, 2015 - The House of Representative, in a largely partisan vote, passed H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015, by a vote of  245-176.  The Act, which is intended to ease some of the effects of the unprecedented drought gripping California, requires, among other things, for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National ...

On June 15, 2015, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Congressman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, sent a letter to Gina McCarthy, Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), criticizing the EPA’s failure to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (Services) regarding the potential impacts of the Obama administration’s proposed Clean Power Plan on endangered and threatened species ...

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On April 27, 2015, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, released the text (pdf) of the National Defense Authorization Act (Act), including language that would ban the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) from issuing its listing decision for the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) through September 30, 2025.  The Act would also limit the application of federal conservation plans for the species.

As we previously reported, the greater sage-grouse is a candidate species under the ESA.  In 2010, the Service ...

Last week, Washington State Representative Dan Newhouse introduced the Pacific Northwest Gray Wolf Management Act (H.R. 1985), which would remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection for the gray wolf (Canis lupus) within Washington, Oregon, and Utah.  H.R. 1985 is the third bill  introduced in the 114th Congress (2015-2016) proposing to delist the gray wolf within specified states.  H.R. 843 and H.R. 884, introduced in February, would effectively delist gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan and in the Western Great Lakes region and ...

On April 2, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) issued a final rule (pdf) listing the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The Service determined that there are several factors affecting the species, but none as severe and immediate to its persistence as the disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS).  The Service found that WNS is the predominant threat to the northern long-eared bat and, in the absence of WNS, the species would not be experiencing the dramatic decline that it has since WNS emerged.

The ...

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On March 26, 2015, House of Representatives Republican Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) introduced a bill (H.R. 1667) to amend Section 4(b) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to require the Secretary of Interior to make publicly available on the Internet the best scientific and commercial data available that are the basis for reach regulation, including each proposed regulation for listing decisions regarding endangered or threatened status for wildlife and plant species.  H.R. 1667 does not require the Secretary of the Interior to post information that is prohibited from disclosure ...

The Modoc sucker (Catostomus microps), a small fish with a range limited to northeast California and south-central Oregon, was listed as endangered (pdf) in 1985.  A recovery plan for the species was adopted by the Service in 1992, and in February 2014, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the delisting of the species (pdf).  In the proposed rule, the Service made the following determinations:

As a result of the discovery of five populations not known at the time of listing and the documentation of the genetic integrity of populations considered in the 1985 listing rule to have been lost ...

On January 28, 2015, Congressman Bill Flores (R-TX) introduced House Bill H.R. 585 (pdf), which seeks to amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) to establish a new procedure for approval of certain stipulated consent decrees between the federal government and third parties.  Specifically, in cases brought under the ESA's citizen suit provision (16 U.S.C. § 1540(g)), H.R. 585 would require that parties interested in intervening in a lawsuit would have 30 days to intervene, during which time the parties in the case would not be able to file a motion for a consent decree or to ...

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This morning, the House Committee on Natural Resources is holding a legislative hearing on six proposed amendments to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The live video webcast of the hearing can be accessed here.  The six proposed amendments are:

H.R. 1314 - establishing a procedure for approval of certain types of settlements

H.R. 1927 - providing congressional direction for implementation of the ESA as it relates to operation of the Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project and for water relief in the State of California

H.R. 4256 - requiring the wildlife agencies ...

On July 29, 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Endangered Species Act (ESA) reform legislation introduced by members of the House Natural Resources Committee. As previously reported, the legislation consists of four bills seeking to amend the ESA by, among other things, requiring federal agencies to release to the public all data used to make its listing decisions, disclosing the amount of federal funds used in ESA-related lawsuits, and requiring that the best scientific and commercial data available include information provided by state, tribal, and county ...

Yesterday, the House of Representatives approved the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act (H.R. 2919), which would amend existing law to require the Executive Branch to provide an annual report to Congress on the amount of fees and other expenses awarded to prevailing parties, other than the United States, in certain administrative proceedings and civil suits, including certain lawsuits under the Endangered Species Act and other environmental statutes.  The Act would require the report to account for all payments of fees and other expenses awarded made pursuant to a ...

Earlier this week, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to discuss Endangered Species Act (ESA) reform. The hearing focused on four bills that seek to require data and spending transparency under the ESA.

As previously reported, an ESA Congressional working group released a final report stating that the ESA is not working. The proposed bills are a result of that final report. Despite a general agreement that the 40-year old ESA should be updated, the hearing displayed the divide between Republicans and Democrats over how to do so.

One of the bills discussed at the ...

Republican Congressman Chris Stewart (UT) recently introduced a bill (pdf) that would amend the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to require federal wildlife agencies to include the number of species found on state, tribal, and private lands in its official count when determining whether a species should be protected under the ESA.  Currently, the ESA does not include a specific requirement regarding how to account for a species’ population.  Rather, federal agencies are required to use the best scientific and commercial data available when determining whether a species is ...

Members of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Congressional Working Group recently released a final report (pdf) asserting that the ESA is not working and providing four recommendations for improvement.

The report is the result of an eight-month effort led by Republican Representatives Doc Hastings (WA) and Cynthia Lummis (WY) to examine the ESA. The group received input from hundreds of individuals on how the ESA is currently being implemented, and whether it could be updated to be more effective. The report concludes that [a]fter more than 40 years, sensible, targeted reforms ...

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On January 17, 2014, President Obama signed into law the $1.1 trillion dollar Omnibus Spending Bill, thereby funding the federal government through October 1.  Included in the Bill was a provision directing the Secretary of the Interior to reinstate an exemption that exempted the scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah), the dama gazelle (Gazella dama), and the addax antelope (Addax nasomaculatus) from the Endangered Species Act.  The rider was introduced by Representative John Carter (R-Tex).  As we recently reported, proponents of the rider believe that exempting the species will ...

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On Thursday, December 12, 2013, the House Natural Resources Committee (Committee) will hold a full committee oversight hearing (pdf) titled ESA Decisions by Closed-Door Settlement: Short-Changing Science, Transparency, Private Property, and State & Local Economies. This hearing is part of a series of hearings announced by the Committee to review the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and conduct an assessment of the law’s strengths and weaknesses.

As we previously reported, in 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) developed a six-year work plan that would allow it to ...

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On October 10, 2013, the Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group (Working Group) held a forum entitled Reviewing 40 Years of the Endangered Species Act and Seeking Improvement for People and Species. The forum featured 17 panelists, who discussed ways in which the Endangered Species Act (ESA) can be strengthened and improved to better serve the needs of both species and people. Participants specifically highlighted the need to empower states, local governments, and private landowners to conserve species and avoid federal listings, the need for balance within the law ...

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The Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group is scheduled to hold a forum tomorrow morning entitled "Reviewing 40 Years of the Endangered Species Act and Seeking Improvement for People and Species."  A press release issued by the Working Group states that the forum "will feature a diverse group of invited stakeholders who will testify on all angles of the ESA, its impacts on species and people over the last 40 years, and potential improvements going forward."  According to a recent story published by the Environment & Energy Daily entitled Sides spar over ...

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On August 22, 2013, U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo) and the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Doc Hastings (R-Wash), announced that the Congressional Endangered Species Act (ESA) Working Group will be holding field hearings in Casper, Wyoming and Billings, Montana to find ways to improve the ESA for both species and people. The hearings, entitled State and Local Efforts to Protect Species, Jobs, Property and Multiple Use Amidst a New War on the West, will focus on efforts to preserve wildlife while maintaining jobs in agriculture, energy, and ...

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Yesterday, the House Committee on Natural Resources held a second hearing regarding implementation and impacts of the Endangered Species Act.  Today's hearing was titled: Transparency and Sound Science Gone Extinct?: The impacts of the Obama Administration's Closed-Door Settlement on Endangered Species and People.  In a summary description issued before the hearing, the Committee stated that it anticipated the hearing would "highlight how the lack of data transparency is leading to increased numbers of species being listed and critical habitat being ...

Today, the House Natural Resources Committee is holding a full committee oversight hearing on species conservation efforts undertaken at on-the-ground-levels in an effort to compare those efforts with the effectiveness of Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuits. The hearing, entitled Defining Species Conservation Success: Tribal, State and Local Stewardship vs. Federal Courtroom Battles and Sue-and-Settle Practices, is the first in a series of hearings planned by the House to review the effectiveness of conservation efforts under the ESA.

Natural Resources Committee ...

House Republicans recently announced the creation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Working Group, which will be led by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Western Caucus Co-Chair Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).  The ESA Working Group will include a total of 13 republican members from a broad geographic range.  It will examine the ESA from many angles through a series of events, forums, and hearings that will invite discussion and input on ways in which the ESA is working well, and where it can be updated or improved to increase its effectiveness for both people ...

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On March 21, 2013, Representatives Bill Flores (R-TX), John Carter (R-TX), K. Michael Conaway (R-TX), Mac Thornberry (R-TX), and Steve Pearce (R-NM) introduced a bill (pdf) to curtail allegedly excessive Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuits brought by environmental groups. The bill would prohibit courts from approving ESA settlements, unless states and counties that would be affected by the settlements have also given their approval. Also aimed at limiting the amount the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) can spend on ESA lawsuits, the bill would prevent litigants from ...

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Yesterday, a Republican Senator from Texas, John Cornyn, introduced a bill (pdf) that would prohibit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from settling environmental lawsuits without first publishing the complaint "in a readily accessible manner, including electronically," and allowing "affected parties" an opportunity to intervene.  The bill further provides that the filing of any motion to dismiss or for entry of a consent decree based on a settlement agreement shall be prohibited until after affected parties have had a "reasonable opportunity" to intervene.  Should a ...

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As recently reported by a number of news agencies, President Obama will nominate Sally Jewell, the Chief Executive Officer of REI, to be the next Secretary of the Interior.  If the nomination is approved by the Senate, she will be replacing a vacancy created by Ken Salazar, who announced in January that he will be stepping down at the end of March.  It is anticipated that President Obama will make the announcement this afternoon.

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On January 23, 2013, over 25 California delegates to the House of Representatives introduced a bill, H.R. 399 (pdf), addressing the federal rules requiring trees growing on levees to be removed. Specifically, the bill would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to review its policy about vegetation-removal on levees, in order to consider allowing variances on a regional or watershed basis.

The Corps established a national vegetation removal policy in the wake of the failure of levees during Hurricane Katrina. According to Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), the [C]orps ...

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As previously blogged about here, on December 9, 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (Services) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (PDF) in the Federal Register that will, if adopted, change the Services' standards for listing and delisting species as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by re-interpreting the definitions of "threatened" and "endangered" species in the ESA.

In a letter to the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (PDF) dated January 26, 2012, Congressman Markey, the ranking ...

Nossaman’s Endangered Species Law & Policy blog focuses on news, events, and policies affecting endangered species issues in California and throughout the United States. Topics include listing and critical habitat decisions, conservation and recovery planning, inter-agency consultation, and related developments in law, policy, and science. We also inform readers about regulatory and legislative developments, as well as key court decisions.

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