Closing the Endangered Species Piggy Bank

By Ronald W. Opsahl writes August 26, 2019, at Real Clear Policy Trump’s Environmental Reforms: Good for the Environment, Bad for Lawyers.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Between 2016 and 2018, environmental groups filed over 170 lawsuits alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act, making the ESA one of the most abused environmental laws in the United States. On Monday, the Trump Administration announced much needed revisions to regulations of the ESA.

The response of leading environmentalist groups was entirely predictable. They immediately threatened lawsuits. Indeed, lawsuits make up the core business plan of many purported wildlife conservation groups. They sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for alleged violations of the ESA, and often force agency decisions that do not actually benefit any species.

These groups then seek, and frequently succeed, to recover their attorneys’ fees from the federal government, drawing limited funding away from actual species conservation and into their war chests to fund additional ESA litigation. And the cycle goes on and on.

Major environmentalist groups not only earn money directly from litigation, but they also use lawsuits as a fundraising tool, rallying their donors by claiming to “fight” for endangered and threatened species in the courts, even when those lawsuits do little to promote actual conservation.

Big Environmentalism is doing brisk business these days. Since these groups essentially earn a living by abusing the ESA, they have a lot invested in the status quo. ESA reform is a genuine threat to their business model. They characterized Trump’s proposed reforms as a rollback of protections for species at risk of extinction, but it is actually a rollback of their lucrative legal work that terrifies them.

The Trump Administration is proposing three main changes. The change attracting the greatest criticism involves presenting the public with the economic impacts of listing decisions. It is true that listing decisions under the ESA are supposed to be based upon scientific evidence, without regard to economic impact. However, there is no prohibition on preparing and disclosing the potential economic impacts that would result from listing a species. In fact, officials are required by law to consider economic impacts whenever they designate a critical habitat for a species.

Environmentalists may want to keep the public blind to economic impacts, but that could hardly be said to be in the public’s interest. Too often, environmentalists seek critical habitat designations under the pretense of conserving species, but in fact their true intent is to prevent any resource development.

A second revision raising environmentalist ire is the elimination of its so-called “blanket rule,” which automatically affords threatened species the same protections granted to endangered species. Instead, going forward, FWS will evaluate the threats to newly listed threatened species, and tailor the conservation measures to each species’ needs.

Tailored conservation is smarter conservation. The National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency responsible for protecting marine species under the ESA, has never employed the “blanket rule” and has always tailored protections to species’ needs. Furthermore, the “blanket rule” is not provided for by the text of the ESA. Thus, the proposed changes would bring the government’s application of the ESA back into alignment with the Congress’ actual intent.

A third proposed revision to the regulations would clear up some disputed language in the law. Under the ESA, a species may be listed as threatened if it is at risk of becoming endangered in the “foreseeable future.” Previously, the term was undefined, leading to numerous lawsuits intended to force the agency to list species as threatened based upon little more than speculation.

Unfortunately, the weaponization of the ESA will continue until the law is fundamentally changed to eliminate the big dollar incentives that lead to endless litigation in the name of “species conservation.” More reform is needed to curb the rampant abuses of the law by environmental groups. Until then, the “sue and settle” approach will continue clogging up the courts, consuming vast federal resources in endless lawsuits, and taking those resources away from the real work of conservation.

Nevertheless, the proposed reforms are a step in the right direction. The Trump Administration’s ESA rule revision takes power out of the hands of lawyers and puts it back in the hands of scientists and trained wildlife management officials—where it belongs.

Ronald W. Opsahl is an attorney with Mountain States Legal Foundation, specializing in natural resources law, and is a trained wildlife biologist.

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New York: Climate Cuckoo’s Nest

Scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

This just in from the Cuckoo’s Nest AKA New York State Legislature: N.Y. lawmakers agree to historic climate plan by Benjamin Storrow, E&E News. Excerpts in italics with my bolds. The comments are powerful displays of the brain damage from drinking too much climate kool aid.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said yesterday he has reached an agreement with legislative leaders over a bill to slash New York’s greenhouse gas emissions, setting the stage for one of the most significant state climate victories since President Trump took office.

The announcement, coming just days before the close of the legislative session, represented a big victory for climate activists, who have spent three years pushing for major legislation to curb greenhouse gases in the Empire State.

Lawmakers were still working on final amendments yesterday, but the outlines of the deal were becoming clear. The legislation calls for reducing emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030 and 85% by 2050. The remaining 15% of emissions would be offset, making the state carbon neutral. The bill would also require that all electricity generation come from carbon-free sources by 2040. A Climate Action Council would be established to ensure the state meets its targets.

“I believe we have an agreement, and I believe it is going to pass,” Cuomo said in a radio interview on WAMC.

The comment ended months of speculation over the fate of climate legislation in New York. Democratic lawmakers, who seized complete control of state government when they took over the state Senate last fall, had been pushing a bill called the “Climate and Community Protection Act.” The bill would spend 40% of the state’s clean energy revenues on energy efficiency measures and renewable installations in disadvantaged communities.

That drew repeated public objections from Cuomo, who said he wanted to ensure that environmental revenue was spent on environmental programs. Ultimately, the two sides settled on a compromise: At least 35% of revenues would go to disadvantaged communities. That funding could rise as high as 40%, which would amount to $370 million in fiscal 2018-19.

“It was a question of the distribution of the funding,” Cuomo told WAMC. “I understand the politics on these issues. Everyone wants to make all these advocacy groups happy. Taxpayers’ money is taxpayers’ money. And if it’s taxpayers’ money for an environmental purpose, I want to make sure it’s going to an environmental purpose.

“This transformation to a new green economy is very expensive. We don’t have the luxury of using funding for political purposes.”

Business interests had urged Cuomo and Democratic lawmakers to slow down, saying the legislation threatened 40,000 manufacturing jobs in the state. The Business Council of New York State called zero carbon emissions “unrealistic.”

But Democratic lawmakers forged ahead, working through the weekend to iron out a deal with Cuomo before a filing deadline for legislation Sunday. They argued that:

The risks of climate change, coupled with the benefits of a green energy economy, outweighed the potential costs.

“It means that on Father’s Day, when I see my grandchildren next year, I’ll have a lot less uncertainty about their future than I did yesterday morning,”

said Democratic Assemblyman Steve Englebright, a champion of the climate legislation. “It means we are going to be in the vanguard among states, tackling a problem that will affect every jurisdiction here and around the globe.

New York will lead the way.”

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D) said New York’s action would send a major signal to markets, helping companies plan for a cleaner future. But ultimately, he said, lawmakers were responding to voters.

“Our constituents told us, ‘Don’t come back without doing something on climate,'” Kaminsky said. “The future is now. I think we’ve taken that important step.”

Policy mandate with teeth’

Republican control of the state Senate meant climate policy in New York had been centered in the governor’s office until this year. Cuomo has pumped out executive orders banning hydraulic fracturing, calling for the closure of the state’s remaining coal plants in 2020 and targeting a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030, among other things.

The legislation enshrines many of Cuomo’s targets into law, ensuring they will outlast the current governor. The new Climate Action Council would be required to issue recommendations on how to install 6 gigawatts of distributed solar by 2025, 9 GW of offshore wind by 2035 and 3 GW of energy storage by 2030.

But the law also represents a power shift of sorts. Environmentalists have long criticized Cuomo for failing to follow through on many of his environmental objectives. His environmental agencies have yet to produce a climate action plan, despite an executive order directing them to do so. And his coal regulation arrived earlier this year, when only two coal plants remained (Climatewire, May 10).

The legislation ensures the governor will follow through, advocates said. It would require an annual greenhouse gas inventory. The Climate Action Council would release a report every four years detailing the state’s progress (or lack thereof) toward its emissions goals.

And by putting the state’s climate commitment in law, it would open the door for citizens to sue if New York does not meet its targets.

“This isn’t just a planning document. It is a policy mandate with teeth that they can’t evade or avoid,” said Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.

“By inserting climate justice, it becomes a plan about humanity; it becomes a plan about the dignity and value we place on humanity. There are ways to help all of us to catalyze economic development for all of us,”

Bautista said. “That is why so many people are excited about this plan and hope it replicates.”

Unlike many of its peers, the Empire State is casting its gaze beyond power plants, the traditional realm of state climate policy. Transportation accounts for roughly a third of the state’s emissions, followed by residential heating and cooling (16%) and electricity generation (13%). The bill would direct the Climate Action Council to recommend emissions performance standards for the transportation, building and industrial sectors.

At the same time, the legislation leaves considerable questions regarding how New York intends to slash emissions. Much would depend on the Climate Action Council and the governor, who will ultimately be charged with implementing the legislation.

New York has considerable ground to make up. The state cut emissions only 8% between 1990 and 2015, according to the most recent New York greenhouse gas inventory.

Greens acknowledged the amount of work ahead but said they are optimistic.

“Now, for the first time, we actually have our commitment on climate enshrined into law,” said Conor Bambrick, who leads the air and energy program at Environmental Advocates of New York. “That is going to allow for real long-term planning and action so New York can get serious about tackling this problem, serious about getting innovative about ways to tackle this problem and doing it equitably.”

My Comment:

Sorry New York, you are not leading the way. Germany and South Australia have already gone down this rabbit hole, and you can only surpass them by an even greater destruction to your economy and society.