Seeking to Restore ESA Regulations

In June, the Biden administration proposed regulations aimed at restoring Endangered Species Act implementing regulations that were weakened in 2019 under the prior administration. Those rollbacks curtailed protections afforded to threatened species, allowed consideration of economic factors in listing decisions, undermined the critical habitat designation process, and thwarted interagency consultation (provided for in Section 7 of the ESA) regarding development project impacts on imperiled species. The rollbacks sparked outrage, including more than 800,000 public comments, and letters signed by 35 US senators and 105 representatives in the House. Ten states, the District of Columbia, and over 30 tribes also opposed them, and they were successfully challenged in federal court.

In August, AWI joined other organizations in calling on the administration to fully restore the regulations. In our comments, we expressed support for the proposal’s restoration of threatened species protections, its confirmation that economic factors should not be considered in listing decisions, and its emphasis on the importance of tribal consultation. 

However, we asserted that proposed revisions to many of the 2019 changes to the Section 7 regulations are inadequate. In particular, the proposed revisions could arguably still allow for piecemeal destruction of essential habitat, do not ensure adequate consideration of the full scope of a project’s consequences, permit offsite mitigation to compensate for onsite harm to species, and do not fully restore important expert consultation requirements. While the Biden administration’s proposed regulations are encouraging, greater steps are needed to protect imperiled species from the increasing threat of habitat loss exacerbated by climate change.