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Obama Judge Expands Endangered Species Regulatory Powers, Despite EPA’s Court Loss

'Threatened and endangered species do not have the luxury of waiting under rules that do not protect them...'

(Headline USA) A federal judge appointed by former President Barack Obama on Tuesday threw out a host of actions by the Trump administration to roll back Obama’s alarming weaponization of the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws as a means to intrude on private property rights.

Northern California-based U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar issued his reversal a year after the Biden administration said it was moving to resume and bolster the Obama-era policies.

It also came only a week after the US Supreme Court rebuffed administrative overreach by the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies that sought regularly to create laws while circumventing the legislative branch of government.

Tigar’s decree may reflect a newfound sense of urgency among those in the federal bureaucracy to reassert their regulatory powers in the wake of the devastating SCOTUS decision.

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He eliminated the Trump-era rules even as two wildlife agencies under President Joe Biden are reviewing or rescinding the regulations. The decision restores a range of burdensome requirements under the Endangered Species Act—including some that date to the 1970s—while the reviews are completed.

Leftist environmental activists hailed the decision, which they said sped up needed protections and critical habitat designations for threatened species, including salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

Tigar’s ruling “spoke for species desperately in need of comprehensive federal protections without compromise,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney for the far-left ecoterrorism group Earthjustice. “Threatened and endangered species do not have the luxury of waiting under rules that do not protect them.”

The court ruling comes as two federal agencies—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service—review five Endangered Species Act regulations finalized by President Donald Trump’s administration, including critical habitat designations and rules requiring federal agencies to consult with the wildlife or fisheries services before taking actions that could affect threatened or endangered species.

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Fish and Wildlife also said it will reinstate the decades-old “blanket rule,” which mandates additional protections for species that are newly classified as threatened. Those protections were removed under Trump.

Critical habitat designations for threatened or endangered species can result in limitations on energy development such as mining or oil drilling that could disturb a vulnerable species, while the consultation rule and a separate rule on the scope of proposed federal actions help determine how far the government may go to protect imperiled species.

The rules also impact personal property rights, with the government stepping in to regulate the sale, transfer or development of land on which an endangered species is thought to have existed, even if there is no evidence showing it is there.

Biden withdrew last month from a 2020 rule that limited which lands and waters could be designated as places where imperiled animals and plants could receive federal protection.

Under Trump, officials rolled back protections for the northern spotted owl, gray wolves and other species—actions that Biden has vowed to review.

The Biden administration previously moved to reverse Trump’s decision to weaken enforcement of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which made it harder to prosecute bird deaths caused by the energy industry, including windmills.

The bird law reversal was among more than 150 common-sense, business-friendly actions on the environment that were taken during the Trump administration.

A spokesman for the Interior Department, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, said Tuesday the agency is reviewing the court ruling.

Fish and Wildlife, along with the marine fisheries service, announced in June 2021 that it was reviewing the Trump-era actions on endangered species. The reviews could take months or years to complete, officials said.

Industry groups and Republicans in Congress have long viewed the Endangered Species Act as an impediment to economic development, and under Trump they successfully lobbied to weaken the law’s regulations.

Leftist environmental groups and Democratic-controlled states battled the moves in court, but many of those cases remained unresolved.

Ryan Shannon, a lawyer with left-wing activist group the Center for Biological Diversity, said he was “incredibly relieved” that “terrible” Trump-era rules on endangered species were thrown out by the Oakland, California-based Tigar.

“I hope the Biden administration takes this opportunity to strengthen this crucial law, rather than weaken it, in the face of the ongoing extinction crisis,” Shannon said Tuesday.

Rebecca Riley of the leftist Natural Resources Defense Council said the court ruling “ensures that the previous administration’s ‘extinction package’ will be rolled back.”

She and other advocates called on the Biden administration to ensure the Endangered Species Act “can do its job: preventing the extinction of vulnerable species.”

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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