Court throws out ‘no surprises’ rule

Government agencies can no longer assure landowners or developers that approved projects will have immunity from laws protecting endangered species, according to a June 10 federal ruling.

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia made the ruling, criticizing the practice of the “no surprises” rule, which was adopted during the Clinton administration.

According to Sullivan’s ruling, federal agencies will not be able to issue a “no surprises” rule for at least six months. Sullivan told the Associated Press the public has had no voice in the matter of projects that could endanger certain species and have “significant effects on public resources.” Federal agencies have until Dec. 10 to revise their regulations so the public has more participation in the regulation process.

The ruling was the result of a suit filed by six organizations led by the Spirit of the Sage Council, a California group that represents American Indians and environmentalists. They challenged regulations of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

While many environmental groups hailed the ruling as a breakthrough, several residential construction groups have criticized the ruling as a setback for construction.

Duane Desiderio, vice president of the National Association of Home Builders, told the Associated Press the ruling could hurt the construction industry, especially the residential sector, because most endangered species are found either on private property or near developing areas. He said his organization supports protecting species, but with a balance that protects construction.

Many residential contractors claim that without the “no surprises” rule, environmental regulations could make getting a project approved, constructed and finished a long, drawn-out process.