Kansas Natural Resource Coalition v. Department of Interior

Bad rulemaking threatens good conservation

Cases > Separation of Powers > Kansas Natural Resource Coalition v. Department of Interior
Case Status: Active: Final brief for appeal filed on October 25, 2019

A buffalo rancher by trade, Ken Klemm also uses his 4,000-acre ranch in Kansas for conservation efforts. In fact, Klemm works with the Kansas Natural Resource Coalition (KNRC) to implement a conservation plan for the lesser prairie chicken. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers such local collaboration for determining endangered listings under its 2003 rule called the Policy for Evaluating Conservation Efforts When Making Listing Decisions (PECE Rule). Unfortunately, the rule is not lawfully in effect because the Service never submitted the PECE Rule to Congress as required by the Congressional Review Act (CRA). On behalf of KNRC, PLF has filed a lawsuit demanding that the Service submit its rule to Congress so it can legally take effect and allow good conservation work to continue.

Ken Klemm is a buffalo rancher by trade, but he believes in leaving his land in better shape than before, so he has also spent the past 20 years using his 4,000-acre ranch in Kansas for conservation efforts. Klemm was the first president of the KNRC, which has been instrumental in bringing the fight against endangered species listing of the lesser prairie chicken.

But a conservation plan developed by KNRC to keep the bird off the endangered list now faces danger of its own, because a federal agency failed to follow the law.

In 2003 the Fish and Wildlife Service created the PECE Rule. The PECE Rule sets the standards for evaluating that plan in listing decisions and provides the key incentive for states, industry, conservationists, and property owners to participate.

The resulting management plans have proven successful including KNRC’s lesser prairie chicken plan adopted and implemented through its member counties. As a result, the lesser prairie chicken’s population has doubled, keeping it off endangered lists, while respecting property rights.

But the Service never submitted the PECE Rule to Congress as required by the CRA. Passed in 1996, and signed by President Bill Clinton, the CRA requires federal agencies to send rules to Congress before they may take effect giving Congress its rightful opportunity to oversee agency actions.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to submit its rule to Congress means the rule is not lawfully in effect and thus cannot be relied upon. Therefore conservation efforts like the KNRC’s are caught in a Catch-22: plans will be evaluated under the rule, but since the rule’s not legal in the first place, relying on it risks substantial litigation and regulatory uncertainty.

On behalf of the KNRC, PLF has filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to declare that the Service violated the CRA and Administrative Procedure Act. The suit also demands that the Service submit its rule to Congress for approval so it can legally take effect and allow good conservation work to continue.

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What’s at stake?

  • Rulemakers must follow the rules: No unelected, unaccountable bureaucrat can enforce any rule without first submitting the rule to Congress for review. Failure to do so creates an unnecessary cloud of uncertainty around rules that people must be able to rely on.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to submit the PECE Rule to Congress puts conservation efforts in a Catch-22: plans will be evaluated under the rule but, since it’s not legally in effect, relying on it creates substantial legal risks.

Case Timeline

KNRC Complaint

April 11, 2018 Download

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