Environmental Groups Sue Trump Administration Over Endangered Species Act Changes

The plaintiffs claim the new regulations are an "attack" on the decades-old conservation law
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Eight environmental organizations sued the Trump administration on Wednesday over changes made to the Endangered Species Act last week. The revisions, which include removing protections for certain species and provisions to put a price tag on certain conservation efforts, faced immediate blowback from environmentalists and lawmakers when they were announced on August 12. Attorneys general of Massachusetts and California also pledged to sue the administration over the changes 

Earthjustice filed the suit on behalf of Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, the Human Society of the United States, Natural Resources Defense Council, and WildEarth Guardians.

The lawsuit makes three claims against the new regulations: the Trump administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act in failing to disclose the harmful impacts of the new rules; changes to the legislation were not subject to public comment, thus excluding the American people from the decision-making process; and the changes violate the language and purpose of the law "by unreasonably changing requirements for compliance with Section 7, which requires federal agencies to ensure that actions they authorize, fund, or carry out do not jeopardize the existence of any species listed, or destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat of any listed species."

In the complaint against the administration, Earthjustice lawyers claim that "taken together, this package of regulatory changes undermines the fundamental purpose of the ESA 'to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, [and] to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species...'"

The plaintiffs also filed a notice of intent to sue yesterday over other aspects of the new rules, including a change that would allow the government to publicize economic impacts when deciding whether or not to list a species as endangered. 

“We stand in unwavering defense of the Endangered Species Act, which the Trump administration is attempting to dismantle in the midst of a climate crisis that threatens wildlife globally. This administration is clearly placing the interests of oil and gas development above America’s national park wildlife,” said Bart Melton, Wildlife Program Director for the National Parks Conservation Association, in a press release. “The rewritten rules weaken the National Park Service’s hand in the long-term protection of park plants, fish and wildlife."

“Trump’s rules are a dream-come-true for polluting industries and a nightmare for endangered species,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Scientists around the world are sounding the alarm about extinction, but the Trump administration is removing safeguards for the nation’s endangered species.”

In an emailed statement, Nick Goodwin, a spokesperson for the Department of the Interior, said the department would contest the suit.

"It is unsurprising that those who repeatedly seek to weaponize the Endangered Species Act—instead of use it as a means to recover imperiled species—would choose to sue," he wrote. "We will see them in court, and we will be steadfast in our implementation of this important act with the unchanging goal of conserving and recovering species." 

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973, and has enjoyed widespread bipartisan popularity in the decades since. A 2018 study by The Ohio State University found that 80 percent of Americans—including 90 percent of self-identified liberals and 74 percent of conservatives—support the law, with only 10 percent opposing it. Proponents credit the legislation with saving the bald eagle and the gray wolf, among others, from extinction.