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