Biden Picks Lesser Prairie Chicken over Oil and Gas Industry, American Jobs

This undated file photo provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows a male lesser prairie chicken in southeastern New Mexico. A federal court in Texas on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, has vacated Endangered Species Act protections for the lesser prairie chicken, a victory for oil and gas companies that …
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP

The United States’ energy independence is under threat again as President Joe Biden invokes the Endangered Species Act to protect the lesser prairie chicken’s habitat, where the birds’ range overlaps the oil and gas rich Permian Basin.

The Biden-controlled U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have proposed the listing, another reversal of former President Donald Trump’s policies, which opened up public land for use by Americans for oil and gas leases, ranching, and recreation:

Under the Act, if we determine that a species is an endangered or threatened species throughout all or a significant portion of its range, we are required to promptly publish a proposal in the Federal Register and make a determination on our proposal within 1 year. To the maximum extent prudent and determinable, we must designate critical habitat for any species that we determine to be an endangered or threatened species under the Act. Listing a species as an endangered or threatened species and designation of critical habitat can only be completed by issuing a rule.

The Washington Post reported on the development:

The decision, one of nearly two dozen new conservation measures the administration has adopted in the past four months, underscores President Biden’s push to unravel his predecessor’s environmental policies. Biden has targeted Trump’s energy and environmental policies or proposed one of his own at the rate of about one a day, according to a Washington Post analysis.

As its numbers have dwindled, conflicts over whether to protect the bird — and potentially hamper energy development in conservative-leaning states — have only intensified.

The federal government is proposing two separate designations to try to prevent the species’ demise. The southern population of about 5,000 birds living along the New Mexico-Texas border would be considered endangered, while a northern group would be listed as threatened, a less-restrictive designation. After taking input from the public, the agency will make a final decision on these listings within a year.

Amy Lueders, a regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said on Wednesday that voluntary efforts to protect the birds have fallen short for the “long term” conservation of the bird.

Those in the oil and gas industry are sounding the alarm.

“I think it could have a substantial impact on oil and gas and energy development,” Wayne D’Angelo, a lawyer with Kelley Drye & Warren, said in the Post report. “It’s a threat that sort of kills investment and causes problems.”

According to the Post, Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Clay Nichols told reporters that the “things that would be prohibited” include actions deemed harmful to the bird or its habitat, which literally covers millions of acres of oil and gas rich land.

“Earlier this month Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-OK) and other GOP senators, including those from Kansas and Texas, urged Interior Secretary Deb Haaland not to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act given ongoing conservation efforts,” the Post reported.

“We strongly believe it would be imprudent and harmful to ongoing and unprecedented conservation efforts in our states for the [Fish and Wildlife] Service to issue what would amount to a premature [Endangered Species Act] listing proposal,” the lawmakers wrote.

In 2014 the Fish and Wildlife Service named the lesser prairie chicken a threatened species, but that listing was overturned in court. The Trump administration did not take action and was sued by environmental groups. A 2019 settlement required the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a new listing decision by May 2021.

The Post said the prairie chicken populations have gone for “millions” to about 27,000. The number of jobs and economic benefits that would be lost in oil and gas rich states if exploration and production were halted is yet to be determined.

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