A group of environmental organizations has filed a lawsuit seeking to derail the Trump administration’s recently issued regulatory revisions that loosen how the Endangered Species Act is implemented.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on Aug. 21, the green groups contend that the administration’s rules, announced nine days earlier, “violate the plain language and overarching purpose” of the endangered-species statute. [View earlier ENR story on release of new regulations here.]
Moreover, the filing argues, the Interior Dept.’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Commerce Dept.’s National Marine Fisheries Service—which issued the new rules—also violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to disclose the “significant environmental impacts” that the regulations themselves would have.
In their complaint, the seven plaintiffs, which include the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council, ask the court to vacate the new regulations and bar them from taking effect. The rules were published in the Federal Register on Aug. 27 and are to take effect on Sept. 26.
An Interior Dept. spokesperson said in a statement, “It is unsurprising that those who repeatedly seek to weaponize the Endangered Species Act —instead of use it as a means to recover imperiled species—would choose to sue.”
The spokesperson added, “We will see them in court, and we will be steadfast in our implementation of this important act with the unchanging goal of conserving and recovering species.”
Environmental groups had said shortly after the regulations were issued that they would sue to block them.
Another court challenge to the endangered species rules is expected, this one from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and California AG Xavier Becerra and perhaps other attorneys general.
Industry officials say that the most important changes in the rules include removing current protections for “threatened” species, which is one step below endangered status. At present, threatened species are granted the same safeguards as those for endangered species.
Another key provision would pull back on current requirements for designating areas as "critical habitat" for endangered species. For example, under the new regulations, agencies would only designate habitat where a species doesn't currently live as "critical" if they determine its "occupied" habitat doesn't ensure that the species will survive.