WASHINGTON (CN) – The National Association of Home Builders claims the Department of Interior has illegally expanded its power to list endangered species. The powerful developers association challenged the implementation of the nation’s most far-ranging environmental law, the Endangered Species Act.
The NAHB claims the Department of Interior’s March 2007 solicitor’s opinion improperly expanded the Interior Department’s ability to list populations of endangered species.
It claims the solicitor’s opinion unlawfully reversed a 1996 policy requiring populations of species to be considered “distinct,” or geographically discrete and significant to the species as a whole.
The association, with 175,000 members from 850 state and local groups across the nation, has a history of successfully litigating to weaken application of environmental law.
The 9th Circuit in 2003 decided in National Association of Home Builders v. Norton that although cactus ferruginous pygmy owls in Southern Arizona were a distinct population, this population was not significant to the species. The ruling overturned the listing of the owl as a distinct population segment. Environmentalists said the ruling could doom the species in the United States.
The developers say that the solicitor’s new interpretation of the Endangered Species Act, which the agency is bound to follow, allows the Interior Department to overstep distinct population requirements and simply determine that a population belongs to an endangered species in order for listing.
The agency has already implemented this interpretation, without public comment, for the Preble’s Meadow jumping mouse and Gunnison’s prairie dog, the developers claim.
Since members of the homebuilders association own land in Colorado’s Front Range, using this interpretation for the prairie dog subjects them to undue federal regulation, they say.
Their lawsuit quotes a commentator who called the Endangered Species Act “a primary obstacle to land development” in America.
The homebuilders, represented by Norman James of Fennemore Craig, seek declaratory and injunctive relief.