Audubon Files Lawsuit to Protect Coastal Areas from Sand Mining

The administration’s unlawful action endangers communities facing an active 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.

WASHINGTON (July 2, 2020) – Today, the National Audubon Society, represented by Democracy Forward, filed suit against the Trump administration to defend the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) against Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt’s unlawful ‘Excavation Rule,’ which allows taxpayer money to be used for dredging sand from protected coastal areas. The Excavation Rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

“The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is forecasted to be above-normal, with several named and major storms. By allowing sand to be removed from protected coastal areas that serve the broader public, the Trump administration is eroding the coastal buffers that act as our first line of defense against storm surge, wind, and flooding at a time when we need them the most,” said Karen Hyun, vice president for coastal conservation at the National Audubon Society. “Audubon opposes this unlawful redrafting of a decades-old, bipartisan statute. Healthy coastlines benefit both birds and people.”

“Secretary Bernhardt continues to put vulnerable communities and irreplaceable wildlife and natural resources in danger in order to keep powerful interests happy,” said Travis Annatoyn, Democracy Forward senior counsel. “Turning undeveloped islands and beaches into sand mines is horrendously shortsighted, and illegal, and we will continue to fight against the Trump administration's lawlessness.”

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act, created in 1982, prohibits nearly all federal expenditures in a system of hurricane- and storm-prone coastal areas, which covers 3.5 million acres along the Atlantic Coast, Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A 2019 study found that, by banning taxpayer-funded development in these areas, the Coastal Barrier Resources Act saved taxpayers $9.5 billion over 25 years, with a projected additional savings of $11-109 billion over the next 50 years. A University of North Carolina study published this week further suggests that the CBRA has successfully discouraged development of these sensitive coastal areas.

The coastal system protected by the Act preserves undeveloped coastal islands, wetlands, and beaches that serve as a buffer for inland communities against storms and sea-level rise, as well as critical habitat for birds and other wildlife. Coastal birds like terns and plovers rely on healthy beaches to nest and raise their young. Shorebird populations in North America have declined by 70 percent since 1973, due to climate change, coastal development, overfishing, and pollution. The Excavation Rule puts these vulnerable birds at even greater risk by facilitating federally funded disturbances to their fragile habitats.

The Excavation Rule was announced in a one-and-a-half page letter to three Congressional members only six days after they asked Bernhardt to “correct” the CBRA. The Rule:

  • Runs afoul of the CBRA’s explicit prohibition against using federal funds for projects that would destabilize or erode America's coastal barriers;
  • Is contrary to Congress’ stated purpose that the CBRA avoid wasteful federal expenditures and minimize “the loss of human life” and “damage to fish, wildlife, and other natural resources associated with the coastal barriers;”
  • Was issued without granting the public notice or an opportunity to comment on the benefits of the CBRA protections; and 
  • Was finalized without an Environmental Impact Statement or an Environmental Assessment analyzing the destructive effects that unbridled sand mining will have on the mainland coastal communities that rely on barrier islands to reduce the damage from severe storms and floods, or on the birds and other wildlife that rely on undisturbed coastal areas for feeding, nesting, and spawning.

The suit was filed on July 2 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Read the complaint in full here.


The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. 

Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.


Rachel Guillory, National Audubon Society,, 504.708.5873

Charisma Troiano, Democracy Forward,, (202) 701-1781