Press Release Aug 21, 2019

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration Attack on Endangered Species Act

NPCA, wildlife and conservation groups head to court on Trump-Bernhardt’s extinction plan

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Environmental groups today sued the Trump administration over its new regulations that dramatically weaken the Endangered Species Act. Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association, (NPCA) Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, WildEarth Guardians, and the Humane Society of the United States.

Today’s lawsuit makes three claims against the Trump administration’s new rules:

  1. The Trump administration failed to publicly disclose and analyze the harms and impacts of these rules, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act;

  2. The administration inserted new changes into the final rules that were never made public and not subject to public comment, cutting the American people out of the decision-making process;

  3. The administration violated the language and purpose of the Endangered Species Act 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.

“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,” said Bart Melton, Wildlife Program Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “This administration is clearly placing the interests of industry and oil and gas development above America’s national park wildlife. Interior Secretary Bernhardt has only confirmed our concerns over his priorities and strengthened our resolve to fight back, by taking legal action to reverse this decision.”

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 yesterday on additional claims related to ESA Section 4, including the new rule injecting economic considerations into listing decisions and the rule eliminating automatic protections for newly-listed threatened species.

“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,” said Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice attorney.

“The rewritten rules weaken the National Park Service’s hand in the long-term protection of park plants, fish and wildlife,” said Melton. “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. National park ecosystems thrive when their biological diversity is intact. The administration’s ongoing attacks on our public lands and laws threaten the opportunity for future generations to enjoy the natural values of parks as we do today.”

Background on the Endangered Species Act:

The Endangered Species Act aspires to prevent extinction, recover imperiled plants and animals, and protect the ecosystems on which they depend. For over 40 years, the Endangered Species Act has been a remarkably successful conservation law that protects imperiled species and their habitats. In the years since it was enacted, a remarkable 99 percent of listed species including the bald eagle, Florida manatee, and the gray wolf have been spared from extinction.

Not only is the Endangered Species Act an effective law, it is also immensely popular. A 2015 Tulchin Research poll showed that 90 percent of voters support the Act, including 96 percent of self-identified liberals and 82 percent of self-identified conservatives. A 2018 study by researchers at The Ohio State University found that roughly four out of five Americans support the Endangered Species Act. Over 800,000 people sent comments to the federal agencies opposing these changes.

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is a former lobbyist for oil and gas companies, big agriculture and other special interests. Bernhardt oversaw the rollbacks to this critical conservation law.

The new regulations are an unprecedented weakening of protections for endangered species. Among other things, they allow consideration of economic factors in decisions about whether species are listed as threatened or endangered, strip newly listed threatened species of automatic protection, weaken protection of species’ critical habitat, and relax consultation standards that are meant to ensure federal agencies avoid jeopardizing species’ survival.

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