Vigorous Dissent from Fifth Circuit’s Denial of Rehearing Should Help ESA Frog-Habitat Case Leap to Supreme Court

sboxermanFeatured Expert Column – Environmental Law and Policy

By Samuel B. Boxerman, Sidley Austin LLP with Katharine Falahee Newman, Sidley Austin LLP

A fractured US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected a request seeking rehearing en banc of the court’s decision in Markle Interests, LLC, et al v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, et al. The February 13 decision is the latest in the ongoing legal saga regarding the endangered dusky gopher frog and the designation of private property in Louisiana as “critical habitat”—even though this “shy frog” does not reside on the land and the land does not currently feature the characteristics needed to support the frog.

On June 5, 2016, a majority panel for the Fifth Circuit upheld the district court’s opinion that nearly 1,500 acres of private land in Louisiana (“Unit 1”) is critical habitat for the frog and therefore subject to the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.  In order to be designated as critical habitat, land must meet strict criteria: it must contain physical or biological features essential to conservation of the species. The land in question contains only one of three features considered necessary to support the dusky gopher frog—five ephemeral ponds—and more significantly, is covered with closed canopy pine that make the land uninhabitable by the species. Designation of the land as critical habitat comes at a cost of nearly $34 million in economic impact to the landowners. Despite these facts, the majority held that the land was critical habitat and furthermore, that the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision not to carve out Unit 1 from the critical-habitat decisions was judicially unreviewable. Continue reading

FEDERAL REGULATORY READING LIST: Resources for New Leaders at DOJ

DOJ*Note: This is the third in a series of posts compiling Washington Legal Foundation papers, briefs, regulatory comments, and blog commentaries relevant to critical legal and constitutional issues facing new senior leaders at specific federal regulatory agencies. To read posts addressing other federal agencies, click here.

As the federal government’s primary prosecutor, the Department of Justice (DOJ) serves an important role in enforcing criminal penalties.  However, DOJ frequently oversteps its bounds and advances overzealous enforcement policies.

Through its public-interest litigation, publishing, and other advocacy, WLF influenced debates over DOJ’s recent policies and actions with timely papers and blog commentaries, and weighed in directly through amicus briefs.  Those activities have resulted in an impressive body of reference materials that are instructive for new leadership in the agency.  This post provides a summary of and links to those documents below to simplify access to relevant work product from WLF in each of those areas.

Overcriminalization Timeline

In November 2015, WLF released the third edition of its Timeline: Federal Erosion of Business Civil Liberties (Overcriminalization Timeline).  Each category in the Timeline reflects a separate concern with DOJ’s approach to white-collar criminal enforcement: mens rea, DOJ criminal enforcement, attorney-client and work product privileges, deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements, and criminal sentencing. Continue reading

A Q&A with Federal Regulation Scholar Susan Dudley on Reconsidering Regulations

dudleysusan-2015_crop_webSusan E. Dudley is Director of the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center, which she founded in 2009, and a distinguished professor of practice in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration. From 2007 to 2009, she served as the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

WLF Legal Pulse: As promised, Congress and the Administration have quickly gotten to work reconsidering and removing a host of federal regulations while also setting the stage for a much different approach to regulation.  Let’s first talk about what Congress is doing.

Professor Dudley: Under the Congressional Review Act of 1996 (CRA), Congress has 60 legislative days after a regulation is published to vote to disapprove it.  The procedures for disapproval are streamlined (including requiring a simple majority in the Senate) and if a rule is disapproved, the agency cannot issue something substantially similar. Continue reading

Kudos to Colorado AG for Rebuking Boulder County on Its Fracking Moratorium

coloradoagIn the last several years, municipal and county governments have thrust themselves into some of the nation’s most contentious legal-policy debates by imposing regulatory mandates and restrictions on business conduct. New York City famously tried to shrink soda serving sizes. San Francisco has dictated that ads for “sugary drinks” include health warnings. Philadelphia has prohibited businesses from asking job applicants about their salary history. And numerous cities and counties have enacted restrictions or bans on oil and natural gas extraction from shale plays within their borders.

That last type of local regulation has instigated many battles between city or county government and state lawmakers. The latest fight—between the State of Colorado and the County of Boulder—is about to come to a head. In a January 26 letter sent to Boulder County’s three commissioners, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman has given the county until Friday, February 10 to rescind its “moratorium” on accepting new applications for oil and gas development. If the county fails to act, Attorney General Coffman has pledged to file suit. Continue reading

A Peek at What’s to Come? : Federal Judge Allows “Public Trust” Climate-Change Suit to Proceed

sboxermanFeatured Expert Column – Environmental Law and Policy

By Samuel B. Boxerman, Sidley Austin LLP

A new President will be inaugurated today.  Based on statements by President-Elect Trump and the views of many in Congress, changes are expected in how the federal government will address climate change, especially in the manner it regulates CO2 emissions.

However, at the same time that elected federal officials may navigate such a new path, a group of plaintiffs in a pending Oregon case urge the judiciary to dictate a far different approach to climate change.  Specifically, in Juliana, et al. v. United States, a group of plaintiffs have sued various federal agencies alleging that those agencies have willfully ignored the harm climate change causes them.  The plaintiffs claim that such inaction violates their constitutional due process rights, and runs afoul of a common-law theory known as the “public trust” doctrine.  They seek an order directing the federal defendants to develop a national remedial plan to reduce CO2 emissions. Continue reading

EPA Fracking Report Deliberately Ignores Key Studies to Embrace Inconclusive Results

permian

*Grace Galvin, a Communications Associate at WLF who received her JD from Charleston School of Law and is pursuing a Master’s in Journalism and Public Affairs at American University, contributed significantly to this post.

“A blessing” is the description Franklin Bess used to convey his feelings toward the oil and natural gas industry, as long as the drilling is American-based. He and his wife, Katie Bess, are the proud owners of The Williamson Ranch in west Texas, land that has been in Katie’s family for five generations.

In an interview with Ezra Levant, a Canadian broadcaster and “ethical oil” advocate, the Bess family expressed relief in April 2015 when an oil-and-gas exploration and production company bought their expiring lease with Tall City Exploration. This sale has provided the income necessary to allow the Bess family to maintain the ranching life—a rarity today—and pass their land on to future generations.

Many ranching families near Big Spring, Texas have similar stories, and they have the Permian Basin shale that lies beneath their town, and the use of such extraction techniques as hydraulic fracturing, to thank for their livelihoods. Unfortunately, environmental activists, with the help of the federal government, have generated a narrative that paints hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” as a destructive and offensive process. Continue reading

Ninth Circuit Holds Anti-GMO Regulations in Hawaii Preempted by Federal and State Law

9thCirOn November 18, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that federal and state law preempted three county laws in Hawaii that put restrictions on commercial farmers’ planting of genetically-engineered seeds.  The WLF Legal Pulse blogged about the oral arguments this summer.  The decisions, Atay v. County of Maui, Hawaii Papaya Industry Assoc. v. County of Hawaii, and Syngenta Seeds, Inc. v. County of Kauai, collectively represent a win in the fight against unscientific regulations on so-called Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), and highlight the need for uniform, national rules.

The cases arose when the three Hawaii counties, Maui, Hawaii, and Kauai, passed anti-GMO ordinances.  Those of Maui and Hawaii banned outright the growing of genetically modified crops, while Kauai’s ordinance created an extensive public-disclosure scheme for anyone using certain pesticides—the application of which is an essential part of modern commercial farming.  Local farmers and seed suppliers challenged the three ordinances, alleging that they were preempted by federal and state law. Continue reading