For Immediate Release, April 19, 2016
Contact: Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121, email@example.com
Administration Scales Back Proposal That Would Have Limited Public
Participation in Endangered Species Act
Original Proposal Violated Rulemaking Process, Improperly Denying
Public Comment on Critical Issue
WASHINGTON— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service substantially modified a jointly proposed regulation today that would have placed significant burdens on citizens seeking to protect species under the Endangered Species Act. In May 2015 the agencies proposed a set of regulations that would have made the procedural requirements for petitions much more onerous, including a requirement to pre-clear the petition with every potentially affected state government agency; to include “all relevant information” about a species; and to limit each petition to just a single species. In January 2016 the Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter to the Services alerting them that they had likely violated the Paperwork Reduction Act , which prohibits the federal government from imposing undue paperwork burdens on individual citizens.
“This special interest-driven proposal was designed to make it harder to get imperiled species the protections they desperately need under the Endangered Species Act,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center. “Today’s changes reduce the damage, but this whole proposal should still be withdrawn. It purposefully places cumbersome burdens on the public to discourage their participation in protecting plants and animals.”
Enacted in 1995, the Paperwork Reduction Act requires that all federal agencies obtain clearance from the White House Office of Management and Budget before imposing new information–collection requirements on the public. The law helps ensure that when an agency demands information from the public, it does so in the least-burdensome fashion. The law also requires that the public be given an opportunity to provide comment on any information-collection burden prior to its enactment.
The proposed Endangered Species Act petition regulations failed to include any discussion of whether the proposal complied with the Paperwork Reduction Act.
“The failure to comply with the Paperwork Reduction Act wasn’t a mistake or harmless error that can be glossed over — it was a deliberate end-run around the law,” said Hartl. “It is completely implausible that the one time that the Services sought to impose an information-collection burden on the public, that it simply forgot to comply with this standard requirement. Every other regulation they have published over the past 20 years includes an evaluation and discussion of their compliance with this law.”
The Endangered Species Act expressly allows people to petition for species’ protections, and most of the 1,600 species awarded protection to date have been in response to citizen petitions. The filing of a petition triggers what is supposed to be a two-year process that includes three public comment periods. But that process has, on average, taken more than a decade to complete. These delays have led to a backlog of hundreds of species needing protection — a backlog that has been in place for decades. Delays in protection of species have real consequences, with more than 40 species having gone extinct while waiting for protection.
The proposed rule was one of several policies put forward by the administration that have limited the scope of the Endangered Species Act, solidifying the administration's reputation as no friend of wildlife or the environment. Other administration policies have limited protections for endangered species critical habitat; limited which species get protection in the first place; and given federal agencies carte blanche to harm endangered species by ignoring the cumulative impacts of agency activities.
“The Obama administration can still do the right thing here and kill off this awful proposal,” said Hartl. “Unfortunately, it will take many years to do undo the larger damage to the Endangered Species Act that this administration has wrought, and to get those animals and plants that were wrongly denied protection onto the endangered species list.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.