Lawsuit Filed Over Awful Changes to Endangered Species Act

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©. The manatee was one of 78 original species listed in the ESA as being threatened with extinction. (Andrea Izzotti / Shutterstock)

Environmental and animal protection groups have sued the administration over the Trump-Bernhardt 'extinction plan.'

The non-human animals have not had the best time with the human ones; it turns out that mankind has a dismal habit of wiping out species. Thankfully, we seem to have come to our senses somewhat in the last century or so. Like, we stopped obliterating whales for oil and stopped slaughtering majestic birds for hat feathers, yay us. Conservation and wildlife protection acts have been enormously helpful in keeping man’s folly at bay.

One of those acts is the Endangered Species Preservation Act (ESA), which Congress passed in 1966 as a way to list native animal species as endangered and give them protection. As non-profit public interest group Earthjustice explains, “...the Endangered Species Act aspires to prevent extinction, recover imperiled plants and animals, and protect the ecosystems on which they depend.”

The ESA has been a very successful law for protecting imperiled species and their habitats. In the decades since it was enacted, 99 percent of listed species – including the bald eagle, Florida manatee, and the gray wolf – have been saved from extinction.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has created new regulations that dramatically weaken the Endangered Species Act. As Earthjustice notes of the rollbacks:

“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.”

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt, oversaw the creation of the new rules. Given that Bernhardt is a former lobbyist for Big Oil and Big Ag, among other special interests, the new ability to consider economic factors in decisions is especially unnerving.

With all of this in mind, Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians, and the Humane Society of the United States.

“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. We’ll do everything in our power to stop these rules from going forward.”

The lawsuit makes three claims against the 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.

And this is just the first part of what will be a larger legal challenge. There will be 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.

"In the face of a global extinction crisis, the Trump administration has undercut the Endangered Species Act, one of our most successful environmental laws. This action is clearly intended to benefit developers and extractive industries, not species, and we are going to court to stop it. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to ensure that threatened and endangered species are protected for future generations," said Senior Endangered Species Counsel for Defenders of Wildlife Jason Rylander.

Unlike straws and hamburgers, protecting endangered animals appears to be an idea that both sides of the culture war agree on. Earthjustice notes that a 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. And according to a 2018 study by researchers at The Ohio State University, roughly four out of five Americans support the Endangered Species Act.

“The public overwhelmingly supports the ESA, which has succeeded in saving humpback whales, bald eagles, and more than 99 percent of listed species from the brink of extinction,” said Nicholas Arrivo, Staff Attorney for the Humane Society of the United States. “This package of regulatory changes prioritizes industry profits over the very existence of imperiled species.”

We are currently facing a potentially cataclysmic extinction crisis and as such, protecting plants and wildlife is more important than ever. Are we really going to let Big Industry and a callous administration destroy what's left? We will be following this story...