For Immediate Release, September 2, 2020

Contact:

Jaclyn Lopez, (727) 490-9190, jlopez@biologicaldiversity.org
Amber Crooks, (239) 776-5601, amberc@conservancy.org
Karimah Schoenhut, (202) 548-4584, karimah.schoenhut@sierraclub.org
Emily Deanne, (202) 717-8288, edeanne@nrdc.org

Trump Administration Hastening Review to Expedite Sprawl in Florida

Eastern Collier County Development Plan Threatens Florida Panther

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— In response to a presidential executive order, the Department of the Interior is considering sidestepping key conservation laws to fast-track a Collier County development that threatens to destroy 45,000 acres of essential Florida panther habitat, according to documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The push to expedite the controversial Eastern Collier County Multispecies Habitat Conservation Plan is part of an Interior Department proposal to exempt more than 50 major projects — including construction, fossil fuel development and mining — across the nation from key provisions of the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

Records obtained by the Center through the Freedom of Information Act show that President Trump’s executive order allows projects to be approved anywhere in the country based on the unsubstantiated pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s disgraceful to use the pandemic as an excuse to speed the destruction of habitat that’s key to the survival of Florida panthers,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center. “This shameful handout is cronyism at its worst. It’ll have destructive ramifications for decades to come.”

The proposed habitat conservation plan in Collier County is part of a 195,000-acre planning area, 45,000 acres of which are to be developed for residential, mining and other uses, with 107,000 acres to be designated as so-called “preserve land” — which would include agriculture, infrastructure, oil and gas development, off-road vehicle use and transportation development.

“This proposal ignores best-available science and jeopardizes the future of our state mammal, the Florida panther. The HCP will forever change southwest Florida, and its review and analysis cannot be rushed,” said Amber Crooks, environmental policy manager at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

“Hastening the review here serves no legitimate end and will make it even less likely that the incidental take permits withstand legal scrutiny,” said Sierra Club attorney Karimah Schoenhut.

“With fewer than 200 Florida panthers left in the world, we can’t afford to lose any more precious habitat,” said Alison Kelly, a senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s past time to transition away from climate-damaging fossil fuels and the damage and danger they bring. The administration’s rush to approve this project does the opposite.”

These “streamlining” efforts are the result of Executive Order 13807, “On Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects,” and Executive Order 13927, “On Accelerating the Nation’s Economic Recovery from the COVID-19 Emergency by Expediting Infrastructure Investments and Other Activities.”

The list details projects the Interior secretary will consider for additional expedited review, which may include the use of categorical exclusions.

The East Collier project was identified for expedited review because of its “development certainty.”

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.