Biden repeals ability of landowners to claim 'harm' to block critical habitat protections
President Joe Biden repealed a federal regulation Wednesday that had shaken up protections for endangered or threatened species, giving landowners deference over habitat designations by claiming they would face economic harm.
Discretion over habitat decisions previously was vested in the Interior Department, but the rule instituted by former President Donald Trump gave greater significance to the financial interests of private landowners. It was the last of Trump-era alterations to the Endangered Species Act that Biden not yet overturned. Wednesday’s announcement restores the authority of the Interior Department to make decisions about when and if a protected habitat should be established.
“Under Trump’s rule, a landowner could have ludicrously claimed they planned to build the next Taj Mahal or Disneyland on their property to avoid it being protected as critical habitat,” Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement, including a possible dig at the Atlantic City casino that had been the jewel in Trump’s real estate empire and sold for 4 cents on the dollar after his election. “I’m grateful this rule was repealed and that some semblance of common sense has been restored to protecting essential habitat for our endangered plants and animals.”
Last month, the Biden administration repealed a separate rule that limited what kind of land could be considered for a critical habitat. Banning consideration of land that could be restored to support wildlife, Trump had tried to make it that the site in question was already able to support a species.
It was Biden’s stated intention when he took office to have replacement regulations set to announce before he disturbed any of the various Trump-era rollbacks to the Endangered Species Act. This plan changed, however, when a federal judge ruled earlier this month that the rules must be revoked.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Golden State itself had been among the challengers that sued in the Northern District of California to speed up the regulatory overhaul.
U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar determined that because the administration had already announced its intent to alter and revise the regulations, “as the Services themselves explain many times, leaving the regulations in place will cause equal or greater confusion, given the flaws in the drafting and promulgation of those regulations.”
Separate from the repeal signed Wednesday, Biden also this afternoon unveiled plans for new initiatives aimed at combating climate change. These executive actions include fortifying America’s offshore wind industry and bringing aid to communities most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming.
Biden announced the actions at a former coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, that is shifting to offshore wind manufacturing.