WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and its Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs today for refusing to release records on their roles in delaying protections for species listed under the Endangered Species Act. The offices had illegally delayed protection of critical habitat for shorebirds called red knots by more than seven months.
“Red knots, wolves, grizzly bears and many other beautiful but imperiled species are all suffering from constant regulatory delays by these two offices,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center. “This lawsuit seeks to get to the bottom of those delays, which are not only hurting our wildlife but also illegal under the Endangered Species Act.”
The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is an office within the White House’s Office of Management and Budget that has the ability to review, change or even halt any other federal agency’s policy proposals, usually based on purported concerns about the proposals’ costs. The regulatory affairs office’s substantive review is guided by the Clinton-era Executive Order 12866, not by any grant of statutory authority. The order gives the office 90 days to review an agency proposal, but the process frequently takes much longer.
Red knots are salmon-colored shorebirds that make an epic 9,000-mile migration between South America and the Arctic every year. During migration their most critical stopover location is around Delaware Bay, where they feed on horseshoe crab eggs. Over-harvest of horseshoe crabs — mainly by the pharmaceutical industry — as well as habitat loss and sea-level rise have caused red knots to decline by more than 80% since the 1980s. Just 7,000 individuals were seen in 2022, compared with 90,000 in the 1980s. While critical habitat protection for red knots has already been delayed for many years, the current critical habitat designation process should have been completed in July 2022.
Historically the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has weakened and delayed environmental safeguards, including protections for endangered species, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike. During the George W. Bush administration, it delayed for more than a year on rules designed to minimize ship strikes on critically endangered Atlantic right whales.
During the Obama administration, it rejected a Clean Air Act rule to set the ozone pollution standard at 60 parts per billion — an action that could have prevented thousands of premature deaths each year. And during the Trump administration, it was the key office implementing Trump’s so-called “2 for 1” deregulatory agenda demanding that two regulations be removed before one new regulation could be enacted.
When President Biden took office, he signed “Modernizing Regulatory Review,” a presidential memorandum that sought to reform the regulatory office by better considering “social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations” in the rulemaking process. To date the office has not acted on his memorandum.
Today’s lawsuit asserts that the Endangered Species Act specifically mandates all federal agencies, including these two offices, “shall utilize their authorities” to carry out “programs for the conservation of endangered species and threatened species.” The Center is suing under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain agency records regarding this legal obligation.
“The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is in desperate need of reform so that it puts the interests of biological diversity and public health before the profits of the worst corporate actors,” said Snape. “It is both sad and outrageous that an obscure White House office can harm our most imperiled wildlife without any accountability to the American public.”