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Group challenges constitutionality of move to revoke Alaska refuge hunting rule

WASHINGTON — An environmental group has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a congressional resolution that repealed a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule governing hunting practices on refuges in Alaska.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, challenging the 1996 law that Alaska's congressional delegation used to undo the Obama administration regulation.

The law, the Congressional Review Act, allows Congress to repeal any major regulation within 60 legislative days (which gave this incoming Congress a period stretching back to July) with a simple majority vote and presidential approval. The intent is to allow Congress to undo last-minute rules set by an outgoing presidential administration.

Congress has used it 13 times under President Donald Trump. Prior to that, only one rule was overturned using the Congressional Review Act: a regulation on ergonomics set by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, undone in 2001.

The Center for Biological Diversity argued to the court Thursday the CRA violates the Constitution's separation of powers doctrine because it prevents the Fish and Wildlife Service from ever setting any rule that is "substantially the same" as the one that was overturned.

"The Congressional Review Act throws the balance of power out of whack and opens the door for politicians in Congress to meddle in decisions that ought to be made by experts at federal agencies," said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist for the group.

"By law the Fish and Wildlife Service must protect biological diversity on Alaskan wildlife refuges. But the Act makes it more difficult for agency officials to carry out their legal duty to protect wolves and bears," Adkins said.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, meanwhile, has argued it was the federal government that overstepped its constitutional boundaries. He argued that hunting regulations on the refuges should be left to the state, under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the state Constitution.

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