Bloomberg Law
Free Newsletter Sign Up
Bloomberg Law
Free Newsletter Sign Up

Trump-Era Revisions to Endangered Species Rules Tossed by Judge

July 5, 2022, 6:51 PM

The Trump administration’s changes to Endangered Species Act regulations no longer remain in effect as of Tuesday after a federal judge in California rejected the federal government’s request to keep them in place.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service told the US District Court for the Northern District of California that tossing the 2019 ESA rules would lead to confusion. But keeping them in place “will cause equal or greater confusion,” the court said, “given the flaws in the drafting and promulgation of those regulations.”

The agencies already announced their plan to review and revise the regulations, according to the ruling. This “put the public on notice” that the regulations will likely no longer exist in their current form, the court said.

It seems “doubtful that vacatur would add to whatever uncertainty exists about which standards to apply,” wrote Judge Jon S. Tigar.

The ruling was a win for the conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and California and 18 other states and cities that challenged the Trump-era rules. The regulations changed how the agencies add, remove, and reclassify endangered or threatened species and their habitat. They also changed how Fish and Wildlife and NMFS worked with other agencies to reduce harm to listed species.

Landowners and industry groups that intervened in support of the rules argued a return to 2016 regulations would cause further harm. But that argument assumes the 2019 rules would remain in effect without an order to the contrary, the court said.

‘Unlawful and Irrational’

The agencies already proposed revising and rescinding some of the rules, according to the court. Regardless of “whether this court vacates the 2019 ESA Rules, they will not remain in effect in their current form,” Tigar wrote.

“The 2019 rollbacks to the ESA regulations were an unlawful and irrational mess that undermined critical protections for wildlife,” said Karimah Schoenhut, an attorney for the Sierra Club, in a statement Tuesday.

“I hope the Biden administration takes this opportunity to strengthen this crucial law, rather than weaken it, in the face of the ongoing extinction crisis,” said Ryan Shannon, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement Tuesday.

Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity represented the conservation groups. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and Reed Smith LLP represented the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

The California Attorney General’s Office led the states and cities, which were also represented by their respective attorneys general and law departments.

The Sierra Club has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Law is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.

The case is Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Haaland, N.D. Cal., No. 4:19-cv-05206, 7/5/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maya Earls in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at; Andrew Harris at