With a freeze on federal regulations ordered by the Trump administration, agriculture, biofuels and other interest groups are trying to sort out what it all means.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is posting to the Federal Register this week a notification of the freeze and the pending regulations under review.
The list includes 30 regulations identified by EPA. That includes the new Renewable Fuel Standard’s renewable volume obligations, or RVOs, set to take effect Feb. 10, 2017. According to the Federal Register notice the new effective date is March 21 for all of the regulations.
Two national biofuels groups this week said the freeze will not affect the RFS.
“This postponement of the effective date for the 2017 RVO rule is simply procedural,” said Bob Dinneen, president and chief executive officer of the Renewable Fuels Association.
“It is not expected to affect implementation, enforcement, or compliance with the RFS. Regardless of the effective date, the 2017 RVO final rule applies to the 2017 ‘compliance year,’ which began on Jan. 1, 2017 and ends on Dec. 31, 2017. The deadline by which obligated parties must demonstrate compliance with the 2017 RVO is unaffected by this action, and we do not expect this postponement to result in any substantive changes to the contents of 2017 RVO rule itself.”
Anne Steckel, vice president of federal affairs for the National Biodiesel Board, said she expects no substantive change to the RFS as a result of the freeze.
“This is typical of White House transitions, especially when the party also changes,” she said in a statement to DTN. “It provides time for the incoming administration to review the most recently issued regulations of the prior administration to note any they would like to further review. While this action does change the effective date for the 2017 standards under the RFS, the RFS implementing regulations remain in place, including how the RVOs are calculated and the compliance deadlines.
“The standard-setting process is an annual process that just happened to fall within the defined date range. The RFS is clearly working to support a growing biodiesel industry that now supports more than 64,000 jobs across America.”
LESSER PRAIRIE CHICKEN
On the Endangered Species Act front, the National Cattleman’s Beef Association on Tuesday claimed in a news release the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is moving forward with a review of the lesser prairie chicken despite the regulatory freeze.
At the end of 2016 the USFWS announced it was reconsidering the endangered species listing of the lesser prairie chicken, after receiving two petitions that provided additional information pointing to new evidence. The public comment deadline on a proposed listing is Jan. 30.
“In a move that some believe violates the spirit of President Donald Trump’s recent directive freezing all agency regulatory activity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has indicated that it will decline to extend a 90-day comment period to evaluate the status of the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act,” the NCBA said in a news release Tuesday.
The group said the agency denied the request just ahead of what is the expected release of a new population survey for the species by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife agencies. The NCBA argues the information should be used by the agency.
In July 2016, the bird was removed from the ESA list of endangered and threatened wildlife following a September 2015 court order from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. That ruling vacated the service’s 2014 listing rule.
In the spring of 2015, USFWS began assessing the biological status of the lesser prairie chicken expected to be completed in the summer of 2017.
Back in May 2016 the justice department and USFWS offered no explanation for dropping the appeal, saying only that efforts to protect the species would continue.
NCBA President Tracy Brunner said the agency’s action seems to defy the Trump administration order.
“The incoming Trump administration acted immediately to freeze just this kind of exclusionary regulatory process,” Brunner said. “We believe FWS is violating the spirit of that presidential order to placate radical environmental groups bent on listing the lesser prairie chicken.”
The NCBA and other groups have touted private conservation efforts as the best way to protect endangered species and their habitats.
“The LPC range-wide conservation plan, which has resulted in a 25% increase in the population of lesser prairie chicken from 2014 to 2015,” NCBA said in its release, “has been consistently ignored by the administration despite being a prime example of what the FWS says that it wants — landscape scale conservation efforts.”
In 2014, after FWS ignored the conservation efforts and forced a listing of the bird, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas overturned the Administration’s listing calling it arbitrary and capricious.
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies is currently compiling its 2016 LPC Range-wide Conservation Plan Annual Progress Report. As it has for the last couple of years, the report will provide critical information regarding LPC conservation activities related to the Range-Wide Plan.
“We believe it is critical that the FWS postpone action and consider the report — and provide the public opportunity to comment on the report — before taking any further action toward a final determination on the listing of the species,” Brunner said.
The USFWS announced a plan to protect the species in 2014. In July 2015, the agency cited that the prairie chickens were growing in population.
Increases were observed in three of four of the bird’s ecoregions across Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. The Sand Sage Prairie Region of southeast Colorado showed the biggest gain at about 75% from a year ago. The mixed grass prairie region of the northeast Panhandle of Texas, northwest Oklahoma and south-central Kansas saw about a 30% increase, while the shortgrass prairie region of northwest Kansas population grew by about 27%.
Aerial surveys by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies led to estimates that the bird’s population increased by nearly 50% since the 2013 drought in Kansas. As rainfall has returned to historical levels since 2014, the bird’s population has increased.
Read more here on EPA regulations frozen here.
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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