In just eight years, the Obama Administration issued some 22,700 new regulations – many between election day and President Trump’s inauguration.
Among those last-minute rules was the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s January 11 designation of the Rusty Patched Bumblebee (RPB) as “endangered,” under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA). With Congress poised to examine and rescind costly, burdensome, excessive or unwarranted regulations under the 1996 Congressional Review Act, this action should be a prime candidate.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (Utah) and Senators Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and John Barrasso (Wyoming), chairs of the Senate Energy and Mineral Resources Committee and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, respectively, have ample cause to introduce a “joint resolution of disapproval” to override the designation. Montana congressman and Secretary of the Interior nominee Ryan Zinke would likewise have just cause to reverse this regulatory abuse.
The endangered status was rushed through in response to yet another friendly sue-and-settle lawsuit between activists and regulators. It involves a perpetually rare bee that has been “sighted” since 2000 in 13 states, but previously had been found in small, scattered numbers from the Dakotas through the Midwest, down to Kentucky and Georgia, and through the Mid- and Upper-Atlantic Seaboard States to Maine.
(Like most of the other 4,000 wild bee species in the USA, Rusty Patched Bumblebees are only minor food crop pollinators. Domesticated honeybees do most of the heavy lifting.)
Because RPBs nest in the ground, any activities that disturb the soil could impact them: new or improved roads, pipelines, transmission lines, housing and other construction projects, and even plowing fields – including millions of acres of corn and soybean crops – all across their recent and historic range.
Every one of these projects and activities could now be subjected to lawsuits and prolonged USFWS review and approval studies, delaying or blocking them, and preventing the job creation and economic growth the nation needs and President Trump has promised. Pesticide use could also be challenged. The imminent arrival of planting and construction season make this a pressing matter.
The designation process was suspicious from the outset. When Fish & Wildlife failed to handle the Xerces Society’s 2013 request for endangered status expeditiously enough, the society sued the agency in 2015; it received its desired designation days before Mr. Obama left office.
Xerces originally claimed the RPB’s decline was due to “low population dynamics” and a parasitic fungal infection (Nosema bombi) that spread to the bumblebees from commercially raised bees imported from Europe. But in its “12-month finding” issued in September 2016, the USFWS suddenly and inexplicably blamed pesticides – specifically systemic neonicotinoids, the advanced technology, reduced-risk pesticides that some radical environmentalists have been trying to ban for years. The agency also blamed herbicides like RoundUp, saying the weeds they kill in farmers’ fields and along highways are important food sources for RPBs.
But in February 2017, Xerces’ senior conservation biologist for endangered species reverted to his prior claim, saying: “Evidence supports the idea that commercial bumblebees have distributed a virulent pathogen to wild bees, which led to their initial decline, starting in the ’90s…. As a result, we ended up with a bunch of commercially reared bees that were resistant to the pathogen – which wild species have little resistance to – acting as carriers, and then they were distributed throughout the country to interact with our wild bee species.”
In its rush to publish an “endangered” designation, the USFWS also established no survey protocols for locating RPB habitats and nests, and no guidelines for protecting them. Since nests could conceivably be found anywhere in the 630 million acres of current and historic RPB range (one-fourth of the United States) – and anything that disturbs the soil in these states could constitute an illegal “taking” under the ESA – this provides an open invitation for litigation against any agricultural operation, infrastructure project or economic development that falls afoul of an activist group’s preferences or agendas.
Most Americans associate the Endangered Species Act with prominent conservation achievements, such as reversing the near-extinction of iconic national emblems like the bald eagle, alligator and bison. However, the ESA has increasingly been invoked to impose land use controls under the guise of “protecting” obscure, barely surviving insect species, often to thwart energy development, dams, timber cutting and other projects.
This problem has been most pronounced where the federal government owns or controls 29-88% of all the land: in the twelve westernmost states and Alaska. However, bumblebee designations could soon expand federal-activist land use controls throughout the rest of America.
The Endangered Species Act is emblematic of Congress’s sad tendency to cede Legislative Branch authority and power to agencies, courts and activists.
The Congressional Review Act reflects its occasional attempts to regain some of its abandoned legislative prerogatives – and then use those powers only rarely. Indeed, in its 20-year history, the CRA has been used successfully only once: in 2001, to repeal a Clinton Administration OSHA rule.
The hasty, collusive Rusty Patched Bumblebee endangered species designation – and a goodly number of those other 23,000 Obama-era regulations – certainly merit congressional review, disapproval and repeal.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death.