Tom Ewing’s Regulatory Update

* The Coasties Are Working Overtime: (But what else is new, right?) The comment period for the Port Access Route Study (PARS) “Alaskan Arctic Coast” closed this past week. That study started in December 2018. The comment period was extended a number of times. Has the arctic coast changed in the past 4 years? Well, that depends, of course, on how you read the doomsday clock. The same day as this PARS deadline the CG announced a new PARS: “Approaches to Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.” The primary purpose: “to consider whether existing or additional routing measures are necessary to improve navigation safety due to factors such as planned or potential offshore development, current port capabilities and planned improvements, increased vessel traffic, changing vessel traffic patterns, weather conditions, or navigational difficulty.” Comments are due May 16.

* Under the Magnifying Glass: NOAA and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced the start of an Endangered and Threatened Species review of the North Pacific Right Whale. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires such a review every five years. NMFS writes that the review “must be based on the best scientific and commercial data available at the time of the review.” The agency is requesting “any such information on the North Pacific right whale, particularly information on its status, threats, and recovery that has become available since the previous 5-year review” from December 2017. NOAA estimates there are likely fewer than 500 North Pacific right whales remaining, and most sightings have been of single whales, though small groups have been sighted. NMFS uses five core factors to determine endangered or threatened status. The first one listed: “The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range.” Could that include wind energy areas proposed for CA and likely to follow off the coasts of Oregon and Washington? Comments are due May 31.

* You Need Stuff to Make Stuff: Department of Interior (DOI) had a critical announcement last week: it is seeking comments to “inform an interagency working group on mining regulations, laws and permitting.” Currently, a mining permit in the US can take 20 years. DOI’s move shows the push and pull of forces trying to steer this set of issues. The Federal Register notice references President Biden’s EO 14017 which requires a review of mining standards, for environmental protection, on the one hand, but also the need to “examine opportunities to reduce time, cost, and risk of permitting.” This is a focus repeated in the recent infrastructure act. In contrast, last September, Tribes and environmental groups petitioned DOI for a rulemaking to strengthen mining and land use laws. The working group will include DOA, the Forest Service, EPA, the Army Corps and DOE and DOC. One rhetorical question from DOI: How could updates to the Mining Law of 1872, or other relevant statutes, help provide more certainty and timeliness in the permitting process? Wow… 1872…a relevant statute..! The Working Group apparently is limited to government staff. However, watch for upcoming public roundtables providing a chance to comment. Written comments are due by July 31.
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