Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 14, 2023

Contact:

Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121, bhartl@biologicaldiversity.org

Legal Action Launched Over White House Delay on Red Knot Habitat Protections

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity today sent a notice of intent to sue the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for illegally delaying protection of the red knot shorebird’s critical habitat by more than seven months. Habitat loss has helped drive a drastic decline in the migrating shorebird’s population.

“It’s tragic that vital protections for red knots have been needlessly delayed by the White House as this species continues to spiral towards extinction,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s utterly baffling that the Biden administration has such an ax to grind against these beautiful little birds.”

The OIRA is a small office within the White House Office of Management and Budget that has the ability to review, change or even halt any other federal agency’s policy proposals, usually based on purported concerns about the proposals’ costs. OIRA’s review is guided by the Clinton-era Executive Order 12866 — not by any grant of statutory authority. It gives OIRA 90 days to review an agency proposal.

Red knots are salmon-colored shorebirds that make a 9,000-mile migration between South America and the Arctic each year. During migration, their most critical stop-over location is around Delaware Bay, where they feed on horseshoe crab eggs.

Over-harvest of horseshoe crabs — mainly by the pharmaceutical industry — as well as habitat loss and sea-level rise have caused red knots to decline by more than 80% since the 1980s. Just 7,000 individuals were seen in 2022, compared with 90,000 in the 1980s.

While critical habitat protection for the red knot had already been delayed for many years by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the rulemaking process should have been completed in July 2022.

Historically, OIRA has weakened and delayed environmental safeguards, including protections for endangered species, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike. During the George W. Bush administration, OIRA delayed for more than a year on rules designed to minimize ship strikes on critically endangered Atlantic right whales.

During the Obama administration, OIRA rejected a Clean Air Act rule to set the ozone pollution standard at 60 parts per billion — an action that could have prevented thousands of premature deaths each year. And during the Trump administration, OIRA was the key office implementing Trump’s so-called “2 for 1” deregulatory agenda demanding that two regulations be removed before a new regulation could be enacted.

When President Biden took office, he signed “Modernizing Regulatory Review, a presidential memorandum that sought to reform OIRA by better considering “social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations” in the rulemaking process. To date, OIRA has not acted on this memorandum.

In today’s notice letter, the Center notes that OIRA’s actions have undermined the conservation of endangered species by delaying critical habitat and weakening or delaying other vital protections for species such as the African elephant and right whale. In doing so, OIRA is violating the clear mandate of the Endangered Species Act that all federal agencies work to proactively conserve endangered species, not thwart conservation.

“OIRA is in desperate need of reform so that it puts the interests of wildlife and the environment before the profits of the worst polluters,” said Hartl. “We shouldn’t have to accept an agency inside the White House that is cheerleading extinction without any accountability to the public.”

RSRed Knot_Brett_Hartl_Center_for_Biological_Diversity_FPWC_2
Red knot. Credit: Brett Hartl/Center for Biological Diversity Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

center locations

Programs: