Is the Endangered Species Act Endangered?

Environmental attorneys from local firms weigh in on significant proposed ESA changes

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Fisheries on Wednesday published in the Federal Register a suite of proposed rule changes to the Endangered Species Act that would change how species make their way onto the list and take a species’ economic impact into account. The rule change process begins with a 60-day comment period on what would be some of the most significant alterations to the wildlife protection law since it was signed by president Richard Nixon in 1973.

Earlier this month, several members of Congress also introduced multiple bills to permanently alter the law through the legislative process; the approximately nine proposals include a notable overhaul draft supported by the Western Governors’ Association penned by Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming.

Those who engage most with the ESA — regulatory attorneys, environmental activists, oil and gas operators — at least for the time being seem more focused on the proposed rule changes by Fish and Wildlife and NOAA, the two federal agencies tasked with implementing the law, rather than those proposed by Congress.

“If I had limited resources, I would focus my efforts on these regulatory proposals,” said Holland & Hart partner Murray Feldman, who specializes in environmental litigation often involving the ESA. “Just based on past history, that’s the most likely area where something might happen.”

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the July 30, 2018 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.