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Sarah Stauffer Curtiss helps clients understand and comply with environmental and land use laws, navigate complex permitting processes, and develop compliance solutions that enhance business opportunities. On Oregon land use matters, Sarah helps clients secure permits from local governments. She has worked with city and county planning departments throughout Oregon, and regularly represents clients before local governing bodies and the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals. She also represents energy and utility clients on permitting and compliance matters related to project development and expansion through the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council (EFSC). Her federal environmental expertise covers a myriad of environmental laws.

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In the continuing saga of the Echanis wind project in Eastern Oregon, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman on April 18 vacated the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM)’s Record of Decision (ROD) on a right-of-way grant decision under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act for a 230-kV transmission line conveying power generated from the wind project proposed for development on private land on the north side of Steens Mountain. The wind project would include between 40 and 69 wind turbines near Diamond, Oregon.

The case was before Judge Mosman on remand from the Ninth Circuit, which instructed Judge Mosman to vacate the BLM’s ROD unless he found it advisable that the ROD remain in place. The Ninth Circuit’s 2016 opinion followed Judge Mosman’s initial decision to grant the BLM’s motion for summary judgment. Judge Mosman had ruled that the BLM had adequately considered the impact of the project on fragmentation and connectivity of sage-grouse habitat, but the Ninth Circuit’s decision reversed that decision based on its determination that the BLM’s environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) did not adequately assess baseline sage-grouse data during winter at the proposed project site.
Continue Reading BLM Directed to “Try Again” on NEPA Analysis for Echanis Wind’s Transmission Line: Greater Sage-Grouse Remains Key Issue for Project Development Despite USFWS Decision Not to List Under ESA

Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published notice in the Federal Register of a long-anticipated final rule revising its eagle permitting regulations (Revised Eagle Rule). Concurrent with the Revised Eagle Rule, the Service issued a Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) analyzing the Eagle Rule revision under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Although we are still in the process of evaluating the entire package and have concerns with certain aspects of the Revised Eagle Rule, many of the proposed changes represent a step forward for applicants seeking regulatory certainty through the eagle permitting process. Here’s a quick snapshot of the changes:

(Re)extends maximum permit term to 30 years. As we discussed in a previous blog post, in August 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California set aside the 30-year tenure provision of the 2013 revisions to the eagle permit regulations on NEPA grounds, concluding that the Service had failed to demonstrate an adequate basis in the record for deciding not to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment. The Revised Eagle Rule, now backed by NEPA analysis that evaluates the 30-year maximum term, once again extends the maximum term for eagle take permits from five to 30 years, subject to recurring five-year check-ins. In the Federal Register notice, the Service acknowledges that “[t]he 5-year maximum duration for programmatic permits appears to have been a primary factor discouraging many project proponents from seeking eagle take permits. Many activities that incidentally take eagles due to ongoing operations have lifetimes that far exceed 5 years. We need to issue permits that align better, both in duration and the scale of conservation measures, with the longer-term duration of industrial activities, such as electricity distribution and energy production. Extending the maximum permit duration is consistent with other Federal permitting for development and infrastructure projects.”

Applies practicability standard to all permits. Under the previous rule, applicants for standard (non-programmatic) permits were required to reduce potential take to a level where it was “practicably” unavoidable, but applicants for programmatic permits were required to meet a higher standard (reducing take through the implementation of advanced conservation practices (ACP) to a level where remaining take is “unavoidable”). The Revised Eagle Rule applies the “practicability” standard to all eagle take permits and removes the “unavoidable” standard from the permit program. Thus, all permits will contain the standard that take must be avoided and minimized to the maximum degree practicable.
Continue Reading U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Issues Final Revised Eagle Rule

Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published notice in the Federal Register of proposed changes to its eagle permitting regulations (Proposed Rule).  Concurrent with the Proposed Rule, the Service issued a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (DPEIS) analyzing the proposed changes under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and a Status Report that estimates size, productivity, and survival rates for bald and golden eagles, and provides recommendations on authorized take limits.  The Service is accepting comments on the Proposed Rule and the DPEIS until July 5, 2016.

Although we are still in the process of evaluating the entire package, the proposed changes represent a significant step forward for applicants seeking regulatory certainty through the eagle permitting process. Here’s a quick snapshot of the proposal:

(Re)extends maximum permit term to 30 years.  As we discussed in a previous post, in August 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California set aside the 30-year tenure provision of the 2013 revisions to the eagle permit regulations on NEPA grounds, concluding that the Service had failed to demonstrate an adequate basis in the record for deciding not to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment.  The Proposed Rule, now backed by NEPA analysis that evaluates the 30-year maximum term, once again extends the maximum term for eagle take permits from five to 30 years, subject to recurring five-year check-ins.  In the Federal Register notice, the Service acknowledges that the “5-year maximum permit term is unnecessarily burdensome for businesses engaged in long-term actions that have the potential to incidentally take bald or golden eagles over the lifetime of the activity.”
Continue Reading U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Issues Proposed Changes to Eagle Permit Regulations, Opens 60-Day Comment Period

As we discussed in a previous post, on January 14, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published a final 4(d) rule under the Endangered Species Act for the northern long-eared bat.  As we noted, although the final 4(d) rule was widely viewed as a “win” for the wind industry, environmental organizations were

In April 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) published a final decision to list the northern long-eared bat as threatened and, rather than publishing a final 4(d) rule, opted to publish an interim 4(d) rule and open a 90-day comment period to gather additional information and potentially refine the interim 4(d) rule.

As we discussed in a post last year, the effect of the interim 4(d) rule depended on the location of a particular activity. For areas of the country not affected by white-nose syndrome, the interim 4(d) rule exempted incidental take from all activities.  For areas of the country affected by white-nose syndrome, the interim 4(d) rule exempted from Endangered Species Act take prohibitions the following activities: (1) forest management practices, (2) maintenance and limited expansion of transportation and utility rights-of-way, (3) prairie habitat management, and (4 ) limited tree removal projects, provided these activities protected known maternity roosts and hibernacula.  Under the interim 4(d) rule, those activities were exempted provided: (1) the activity occurred more than 0.25 mile (0.4 km) from a known, occupied hibernacula, (2) the activity avoided cutting or destroying known, occupied roost trees during the pup season (June 1–July 31), and (3) the activity avoided clearcuts (and similar harvest methods, e.g., seed tree, shelterwood and coppice) within 0.25 mile (0.4 km) of known, occupied roost trees during the pup season (June 1–July 31).  Thus, with a few narrow exceptions, the interim 4(d) rule prohibited all incidental take within areas of the country affected by white-nose syndrome, including take resulting from the operation of utility-scale wind turbines.
Continue Reading U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Issues Final 4(d) Rule for Northern Long-Eared Bat Under Endangered Species Act

On January 19, 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) dropped its Ninth Circuit appeal of U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh’s ruling that set aside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (“Service”) rule to extend the maximum term for programmatic “take” permits under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (“Eagle Act”) to 30 years for failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”).

As we discussed in our previous post,  in August 2015 the court set aside the 30-year rule on NEPA grounds, concluding that the Service had “failed to show an adequate basis in the record for deciding not to prepare an EIS–much less an EA–prior to increasing the maximum duration for programmatic eagle take permits by sixfold.” The Court found the Service’s reliance on certain U.S. Department of Interior categorical exclusions misplaced. According to the Court, the Service failed to establish that the decision was “administrative” or “procedural” in nature and failed to address concerns by its own experts that the rule revisions might have highly controversial environmental effects.  Importantly, however,  the court’s decision to set aside the 30-year rule only applied to the 30-year permit tenure provision of the 2013 rule amendments. Other components of the 2013 rule amendments were left intact, including the 5 year permit renewal and assignment provisions.
Continue Reading U.S Fish and Wildlife Service Opts Not to Appeal 30-Year Eagle Rule Decision, Focuses on Development of Eagle Permitting Program

In a speech at the Rocky Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced yesterday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will not list the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Finding that protection under the ESA is no longer warranted due to an “unprecedented conservation partnership,” the USFWS announced that it was withdrawing the species from the candidate list.   The decision comes roughly a week before a court-ordered deadline for a decision.
Continue Reading U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Determines Protection for Greater Sage-Grouse No Longer Warranted

As we discussed in this post from May 2014, the American Bird Conservancy (“ABC”) in 2014 filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (“USFWS”) 2013 revisions to its eagle permit rule, alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). ABC’s challenge related to the revised eagle permit rule that was issued in December 2013 and that extended the maximum term for programmatic Eagle Take Permits under the Eagle Act to 30 years (the “Final 30-Year Rule”), subject to a recurring five-year review process throughout the permit life. Under the previous rule, the maximum term for programmatic permits for incidental “take” of bald and golden eagles was five years.
Continue Reading Court Invalidates 30-Year Permit Provisions of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Eagle Permit Rule on NEPA Grounds

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) published notice in the Federal Register announcing that it intends to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement to evaluate the effects of a program that would authorize incidental take under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (“MBTA”). Although the Service has MBTA regulations that authorize the issuance of permits to take migratory birds for specific purposes (e.g. scientific collection, bird banding and marking, raptor propagation), there is presently no permit to authorize take that occurs incidental to, and which is not the purpose of, an otherwise lawful activity. Companies potentially impacted include those involved in the oil and gas sector, telecommunications, energy transmission infrastructure, and solar and wind energy generation.

Through this rulemaking, the Service will evaluate various approaches to regulating incidental take of migratory birds, including:
Continue Reading USFWS to Evaluate New Incidental Take Permitting Program Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

In a long-anticipated move, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”)has published a final listing decision and interim rule on the northern long-eared bat. The Service listed the northern long-eared bat as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”), and, rather than publishing a final 4(d) rule, opted to publish an interim 4(d) rule and