A Look Back at Federal Rulemaking in 2014 by Obama Administration and the Influence of Congress and the Courts
The release earlier this week of the pending $1.1 trillion omnibus Congressional spending bill – bundling 11 separate spending bills together to fund the operations of government through September 2015 – reveals the tug and pull between Congress and the executive agencies on federal rulemaking, including for animals. Much of the news – good and bad – relates to green or red lights for funding of executive actions by agencies that deal with animals.
On the good news side, the omnibus spending measure renews a government policy to defund inspections at horse slaughter plants – preventing slaughter operations from killing these animals for human consumption – and encourages more humane management of wild horse populations on public lands. The final bill provides needed funding for the enforcement of key animal welfare laws, including laws to prohibit trafficking in ivory and other wildlife parts. We had worried about a different outcome because the original House version of the legislation tried to block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from cracking down on the illegal trade in ivory in the United States.
On the bad news front, the bill’s managers added a provision to restrict what agencies can do to “regulate the lead content” of ammunition. We read this provision narrowly, and we don’t think it would block the FWS from banning the use of lead on federal land, but we are mindful that some proponents of this provision want to prevent federal agencies from taking any action to protect wildlife and the public from the dangers of lead ammunition.
In today’s blog, though, I want to focus on the big actions that executive agencies within the Obama Administration took on animal protection this year. Here’s my rundown of the top accomplishments for the Administration in 2014:
Wildlife Trafficking: The FWS issued a director’s order for agency personnel to strictly enforce existing restrictions on the commercial trade in elephant ivory and on the import, export, and sale of items made from other protected species under the “antiques exception” of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The FWS also suspended imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies taken in Tanzania and Zimbabwe during 2014.
- Southern White Rhino: The FWS listed the Southern White Rhinoceros as threatened under the ESA to curb rampant poaching.
- African Lions: The FWS released a proposed rule that would list African lions as threatened under the ESA and create a special rule governing the import of sport-hunted lion trophies. That final rule, when issued, is likely to dramatically restrict the flow of these trophies into the United States.
Puppy Mill Imports: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) adopted a final rule to ban imports of dogs from foreign puppy mills for resale in the United States. The HSUS worked to get Congress to ban these imports as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, but the USDA had not adopted rules to enforce the law until this year. The new rule could restrict sales in the United States of tens of thousands of dogs who are raised inhumanely in foreign puppy mills and suffer terribly during long-distance transport, simply to be resold for the pet trade.
- Class B Random Source Dealers: The USDA revoked the license of one of the last remaining random source dealers after the dealer committed multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act. This dealer was supplying animals to Georgia Regents University, where The HSUS carried out an undercover investigation late last year. As of October 1, the National Institutes of Health will no longer fund research that involves dogs from random source Class B dealers.
- Animal Travel: The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a final rule that expands its current requirement that air carriers report incidents involving the loss, injury, or death of an animal during air transport, to include animals not yet “owned” as pets, such as animals en route from breeders.
Veal Calf Investigation: The USDA suspended inspections of a veal calf slaughterhouse after an undercover investigation exposed Humane Methods of Slaughter Act violations there. We are awaiting a proposed rule on this issue, to close the loophole allowing the slaughter of downer calves, to deal with a problem that extends well beyond a single slaughter plant.
- Meat Purchasing Contracts: The USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service sent a notice to beef, pork, and lamb slaughter facilities indicating its intent to update its animal handling and welfare purchase specifications to impose a zero-tolerance standard for missed stuns or animals regaining sensibility following stunning.
Expanding Protection, Sanctuary for Marine Mammals
Expansion of Pacific Ocean Sanctuary: Through an executive order, the President expanded the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to 490,000 square miles – six times its current size – making it the largest marine monument in the world. The sanctuary is expected to protect nearly two dozen types of living marine mammals, along with threatened species of sea turtles.
- Right Whale Protection: The National Marine Fisheries Services finalized a rule to restrict fishing gear harmful to endangered right whales.
- Animal Abuse Tracking: The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced it will start tracking all forms of animal abuse in the Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
When it comes to beneficial rule-making for animals we often see court challenges, and that’s why The HSUS works so hard in the courts to defend favorable government action. This year, the federal courts upheld a number of our past regulatory advances. In November, a federal court upheld new USDA regulations expanding the number of dogs protected by the Animal Welfare Act, and cracking down on internet sales of puppy mill dogs. The HSUS intervened in the case to protect this major policy decision, which has been in the making for more than a decade. In June, a federal court rejected a lawsuit by elephant trophy hunters seeking to overturn a new FWS policy banning the imports of tusks from threatened populations of elephants shot in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. And in May, a federal court in California upheld the U.S. Department of Commerce’s decision to end its controversial "no otter zone" policy of relocating sea otters along the Pacific coast. In November, The HSUS reached a settlement agreement with the NMFS to expand critical habitat protections for the North Atlantic right whale — one of the world’s most endangered whales.