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Ideally all of our environmental regulations and policies protect ecology by preventing pollutants from degrading the habitats of species. However, in the USA there is one federal regulation that specifically discusses ecological protection: Endangered Species Act (ESA).

VII.1 Endangered Species Act

The ESA was enacted in 1973 to place the highest priority on the protection of endangered species. It is administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The ESA prohibits government agencies from authorizing, funding, or carrying out any activities that might harm an endangered species, or its habitat, and prohibits individuals from taking an endangered species (taking can be broadly defined as causing any harm) without regard to economic consequences.

The ESA is the main law that can prevent large civil infrastructure from getting built particularly in conjunction with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA was enacted in 1969. The goal was to ensure public input regarding actions that affect the environment. NEPA requires all agencies to complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) analyzing the effects of any major project that it plans to implement.

CLASSIC CASE: Tennessee Valley Authority vs Hill, 1978 court decision. A federal agency wanted to build the Tellico Dam on a segment of the Little Tennessee River. A citizen's group wanted to block the project and tried to under NEPA. NEPA required the agency to do an assessment of the environmental impacts caused by the proposed dam. In 1973, a small endangered fish known as the snail darter was found in the Little Tennessee River. The citizen's group filed a lawsuit claiming that the dam would destroy the fish's habitat. The court agreed and after many appeals, the 1978 Court of Appeals stopped the project.

The ESA works as follows:

  1. Listing: The Secretary of the Interior maintains a list of endangered species, and a list of threatened species (likely endangered in the future). A species is listed if any of these conditions applies: a) present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat, b) over utilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes, c) disease or predation impacts, d) inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, and e) other natural or anthropogenic factors affect the existence. There is no economic consideration at this stage.
  2. Critical habitat: The relevant agencies define a geographical area with physical and biological features that are essential to species survival. At this stage the agencies can consider economic impacts to limit the area, therefore the area is not necessarily equal to the entire habitat.
  3. Recovery Plans: These are developed to include specific steps that must be taken to help the species populations to increase in size.
  4. God Squad: overruling authority was added to help negotiate conflicts.

VII.2 Chemical Regulation



  ©Copyright 2003 Carnegie Mellon University
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 9653194. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.