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David J. Hayes: Trump Administration’s Rollback of Endangered Species Act Protections a Reckless and Unlawful Assault on Wildlife


August 12, 2019
Contact: Christopher Gray

Washington, D.C. — David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law and former Interior Deputy Secretary in the Obama and Clinton administrations, released the following statement in response to today's announcement by the Interior and Commerce Departments that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have finalized new rules rolling back critical Endangered Species Act protections for wildlife:

“The Endangered Species Act is one of our nation’s most cherished and important conservation laws. It has served as a model for governments around the world in establishing essential protections for plant and animal species that have become endangered by human activity, and it has successfully revived numerous populations of endangered species across the United States, including the California condor, the grey wolf, and the bald eagle. 

“The Trump administration’s decision to finalize these dangerous rollbacks comes at a time when threatened and endangered species are facing increasing pressure from global forces like climate change, drought, desertification, deforestation, ocean acidification and the rapid destruction of critical habitats. Instead of looking for solutions to the global extinction crisis that threatens up to one million plant and animal species, this administration has decided to place arbitrary and unlawful restrictions on the very federal regulators that Congress has tasked with protecting them. 

“Unfortunately, these rollbacks fit a pattern of anti-wildlife rulemaking by the Trump administration that also includes the rollback of critical protections for migratory birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the push for seismic testing and oil drilling in offshore Atlantic waters and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, putting endangered marine mammals and polar bears at risk, and the aggressive sale of leases for oil and gas development on lands set aside for sage grouse protections. Taken together, these actions constitute a reckless and unlawful assault on wildlife. Fortunately, state attorneys general have stood up to protect the rule of law and oppose these actions. They will not allow these unlawful rollbacks to go uncontested.” 


In September 2018, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra led a coalition of 10 state attorneys general in submitting comments objecting to the Trump administration’s proposal to roll back critical species protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In their comment letter, the AGs noted that the proposed rules put forward by the Interior and Commerce Departments were in clear violation of the ESA’s statutory language, and were “untethered” from the “overriding conservation purpose” of the law.

Specifically, the AGs objected to the Trump administration’s unlawful proposals to inject economic analysis into listing decisions for species, as well as the administration’s attempt at establishing a regulatory precedent effectively prohibiting species threatened by climate change from gaining essential protections under the ESA. The AGs also noted that the Trump administration had failed to complete a National Environmental Policy Act review of the proposed rules—an arbitrary and capricious action, and a clear violation of the law. 

The attorneys general also celebrated the tremendous successes of the ESA in their respective states, noting that many endangered species including the California condor, the piping plover in Massachusetts, the pygmy rabbit in Washington and the shortnose sturgeon in New York had successfully rebounded under the protections afforded to them by the ESA. The Trump administration’s plan to weaken species protections under the Act would force states to pick up the slack, straining state budgets and reducing the critical resources needed to continue this success in the future.

The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to working with state attorneys general to protect and advance clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies. For more information, visit our website.