Bloomberg Law
Sept. 25, 2019, 6:28 PMUpdated: Sept. 25, 2019, 8:25 PM

States Challenge Trump Administration Endangered Species Policy (2)

Emily C. Dooley
Emily C. Dooley
Staff Correspondent

Eighteen state attorneys general and the city of New York filed a lawsuit Sept. 25 challenging the Trump administration’s rollback of Endangered Species Act protections.

The weakening of protections is arbitrary, capricious, unauthorized, and unlawful under several federal acts, according to the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and attorneys general from Massachusetts and Maryland led the state coalition.

“As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s diversity, not to destroy it,” Becerra said in a news release. “The only thing we want to see extinct are the beastly policies of the Trump Administration putting our ecosystems in critical danger.”

The suit challenges a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to finalize three rules related to requirements of the Endangered Species Act that the attorneys general say will put protected species at risk of extinction.

“My sense is they’re choosing to prioritize endangering endangered species,” Becerra said during a press conference.

It names the two agencies, as well as Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Commerce declined comment and an Interior spokesman said the agency was unwavering in its stance.

“These are long overdue and necessary regulatory changes that will recover more imperiled species facing extinction than previously accomplished over the span of this law,” Interior spokesman Nick Goodwin wrote in an email. “We will see them in court, and we will be steadfast in our implementation of this important act to improve conservation efforts across the country.”

The announced revisions nix the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service‘s long-standing “blanket rule,” which automatically gives threatened species the same protections as higher-priority endangered species, such as a ban on killing or harming them. They also allow the the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to include economic costs in their listing decisions.

The suit says the revised rules put species at risk, including by excluding public input on environmental impacts, and expanding exemptions for designating critical habitats.

For many plants and animals the Endangered Species Act is a last resort to prevent extinction, said Meghan Hertel, director of land and water conservation for Audubon Society California.

“It’s the emergency room for our species,” she said.

The case is related to one filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in August challenging the same rules, the complaint said.

Some 300 species in California are listed as endangered or threatened under the law, more than in any of the other contiguous U.S. states.

“We’re coming out swinging to defend this consequential law—humankind and the species with whom we share this planet depend on it,” Becerra said.

The case is California vs. David Bernhardt, N.D. Cal., Complaint 9/25/19

(Includes response from the Interior Department. )

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To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at; Renee Schoof at; Anna Yukhananov at