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Endangered Species Act Changes Challenged

WASHINGTON, D.C.– A lawsuit was filed Wednesday by environmental and animal protection groups against the Trump administration over  its new regulations that the groups say dramatically weaken the Endangered Species Act, the Sierra Club announced.

Earthjustice filed the 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.

A young bald eagle sits on a branch, displaying its brown feathers. Photo: Sam Bland

For more than 40 years, the Endangered Species Act has been a successful conservation law that protects imperiled species and their habitats. In the years since it was enacted, 99 percent of listed species including the bald eagle, Florida manatee and the gray wolf have been spared from extinction, according to the release.

The U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt oversaw the amendments to the conservation law that “weaken the protections for endangered species, such as allowing 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,” according to the announcement.

“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,” Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice attorney said in a statement.

The following claims, the first of what is expected to be a larger legal challenge, are listed in the lawsuit against the 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.

 The same plaintiff group filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue Tuesday 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.

“The new rules move the Endangered Species Act dangerously away from its grounding in sound science that has made the Act so effective — opening the door to political decisions couched as claims that threats to species are too uncertain to address,” said Karimah Schoenhut, Sierra Club staff attorney, in a statement. “In the face of the climate crisis, the result of this abandonment of responsibility will be extinction.”

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The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.