Administration sued over Endangered Species Act changes

Environmental and animal protection groups oppose recent rule changes to handling threatened and endangered species listings.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

August 21, 2019

3 Min Read
gray wolf sitting in grass
US Fish and Wildlife Service

Environmental and animal protection groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging the Trump Administration’s new regulations that they say “dramatically weaken the Endangered Species Act.” Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Assn., WildEarth Guardians and The Humane Society of the United States.

Many in agriculture, such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, had welcomed the reforms the Administration proposed earlier this month, saying they offered real-world recovery more likely a result of an endangered listing. The proposed rule made a distinction between threatened and endangered species. The proposal also simplified environmental review and interagency consultations while maintaining effective species protections.

The environmental groups criticized the changes for allowing consideration of economic factors in decisions about whether species are listed as threatened or endangered, stripping newly listed threatened species of automatic protection, weakening protection of species’ critical habitat and relaxing consultation standards that are meant to ensure that federal agencies avoid jeopardizing species’ survival.

Related:Ag says common sense returns to Endangered Species Act

“Nothing in these new rules helps wildlife, period. Instead, these regulatory changes seek to make protection and recovery of threatened and endangered species harder and less predictable. We’re going to court to set things right,” Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles said.

The lawsuit makes key claims against the Trump Administration's new rules, including: failing to publicly disclose and analyze the harms and impacts of these rules in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, violating the language and purpose of the Endangered Species Act on multiple counts and cutting the American people out of the decision-making process by inserting new changes into the final rules that were never made public and not subject to public comment.

"The new rules move the Endangered Species Act dangerously away from its grounding in sound science that has made the act so effective, opening the door to political decisions couched as claims that threats to species are too uncertain to address," Sierra Club staff attorney Karimah Schoenhut said.

Bart Melton, wildlife program director for the National Parks Conservation Assn., said, “The new regulations are particularly bad news for candidates for protections, including the elusive Sierra Nevada Red Fox, with habitat in Yosemite and Lassen Volcano National Parks. This Administration is clearly placing the interests of oil and gas development above America’s national park wildlife."

Related:Cabinet members look to streamline ESA pesticide consultation

Nicholas Arrivo, staff attorney for The Humane Society of the United States, added that the public overwhelmingly supports the Endangered Species Act, which has succeeded in saving humpback whales, bald eagles and more than 99% of listed species from the brink of extinction. “This package of regulatory changes prioritizes industry profits over the very existence of imperiled species,” he said.

A 2018 study by researchers at The Ohio State University found that roughly four out of five Americans support the Endangered Species Act. More than 800,000 people sent comments to the federal agencies opposing these changes.

This is the first set of claims in what will be a larger legal challenge. The same plaintiff group filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue Tuesday on additional claims related to Endangered Species Act Section 4, including the new rule injecting economic considerations into listing decisions and the rule eliminating automatic protections for newly listed threatened species.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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