FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 25, 2019
Contact: Tom Lalley

Tom.Lalley@nyu.edu


Eighteen State Attorneys General File Suit Challenging Trump Administration’s Gutting of Endangered Species Act 

Suit asserts that new rules would wreak havoc on one of the nation’s most successful conservation laws and harm the states’ vital interests in species protection.

Washington, D.C. — A coalition of 18 state attorneys general led by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit today challenging rules finalized by the Trump administration last month that weaken the implementing regulations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The suit argues that the rules, put forward by the Interior and Commerce Departments, “violate the plain language and purpose of the ESA, its legislative history, numerous binding judicial precedents interpreting the ESA, and its precautionary approach to protecting imperiled species and critical habitat.”

"The Trump Administration is waging war on the ESA’s decades of success, undoing protections that have saved many kinds of wildlife and preserved millions of acres of critical habitat,” said Attorney General Frosh. “Deciding whether to protect endangered species is not an economic question. These decisions must be guided by science, not by profits and political influence."

“As we face a climate emergency and global extinction crisis threatening more than a million species, the Trump Administration is gutting Endangered Species Act protections to pave the way for oil and gas developments,” said Attorney General Healey. “We are suing to defend federal law and protect our imperiled wildlife and environment.”

“California is home to hundreds of endangered and threatened species, and wildlife that owes its continued existence to the Endangered Species Act, including the iconic bald eagle,” said Attorney General Becerra. “As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not to destroy it. The only thing we want to see extinct are the beastly policies of the Trump Administration putting our ecosystems in critical danger. We’re coming out swinging to defend this consequential law — humankind and the species with whom we share this planet depend on it.”
 
The suit challenges numerous unlawful provisions of the administration's ESA rules including:

  • Allowing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to weave economic cost considerations into, and discount scientific information throughout, their decisionmaking;
  • Ignoring grave threats to species’ survival, such as climate change;
  • Reducing the number and extent of critical habitat designations for listed species;
  • Restricting the circumstances under which federal agencies must engage in interagency consultations and dramatically narrowing the scope of such consultations;
  • Decreasing protections that have long been provided to threatened species; and
  • Failing to study the devastating environmental effects of the rules, a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

In their suit, the AGs highlight the tremendous success of the ESA in their respective states, including taking the California condor from just 27 birds in 1987 to 488 in 2018, expanding numbers of endangered piping plover in Massachusetts six fold, preventing the near-certain extinction of the pygmy rabbit in Washington, and increasing shortnose sturgeon populations in New York by more than 400 percent.

“The Trump administration’s gutting of the Endangered Species Act is unlawful, unjustified and unscientific and comes at a time when forces like climate change are worsening, magnifying threats to species around the world,” said David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center.

The attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Washington, D.C. joined Maryland, Massachusetts and California in filing the lawsuit. The City of New York also joined the coalition.

Statements from State Attorneys General

  • California: "California is home to hundreds of endangered and threatened species, and wildlife that owes its continued existence to the Endangered Species Act, including the iconic bald eagle," said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. "As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not to destroy it. The only thing we want to see extinct are the beastly policies of the Trump Administration putting our ecosystems in critical danger. We’re coming out swinging to defend this consequential law — humankind and the species with whom we share this planet depend on it."
  • Connecticut: "Extinction is forever. The consequences that will result from the gutting of the Endangered Species Act cannot be fixed after the next election cycle," said Connecticut Attorney General William Tong. "We are talking about the potential for permanent harm to vulnerable habitats and the loss of species forever."
  • Maryland: "The Trump Administration is waging war on the ESA’s decades of success, undoing protections that have saved many kinds of wildlife and preserved millions of acres of critical habitat," said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. "Deciding whether to protect endangered species is not an economic question. These decisions must be guided by science, not by profits and political influence."
  • Massachusetts: "As we face a climate emergency and global extinction crisis threatening more than a million species, the Trump Administration is gutting Endangered Species Act protections to pave the way for oil and gas developments," said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. "We are suing to defend federal law and protect our imperiled wildlife and environment."
  • New Jersey: "The Administration is again demonstrating its disregard for the longstanding federal rules that protect our environment and our wildlife," said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. "The Endangered Species Act is quite clear about the need to protect threatened and endangered wildlife, but the Administration’s rules undermine that promise at every turn, opening the door to mining and drilling in long-protected areas. The rules are unlawful and harmful for New Jersey, and so I am fighting them in court."
  • New Mexico: "Protecting New Mexico's pristine environment and fighting for environmental justice for New Mexican families is one of my top priorities as attorney general," said New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. "I will continue to fight every one of President Trump's attempts to roll back regulations that protect our wildlife, our environment, and our New Mexico heritage."
  • New York: "These species are vital to the health and wellbeing of our ecosystems and this new rule would have devastating impacts on their viability and our entire environment," said New York Attorney General Letitia James. "We will continue to fight to protect these species, especially in the face of policies that will only expedite their extinction."
  • Vermont: "These rules gut protections for threatened and endangered species, including many found here in Vermont," said Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan. "The rules ignore climate change and inject economic considerations into what, by law, should be a science-driven analysis. The result jeopardizes the survival of species on this planet. This is unlawful and unacceptable."
  • Washington: "For more than four decades, the Endangered Species Act has been a worldwide model of conservation law," said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. "This administration has shown over and over that it will stop at nothing to slash regulations at the whim of industry interests, even if it means putting our shared ecosystem at risk. Every time my office has brought the Trump Administration to court over environmental rollbacks, we’ve won. I expect this lawsuit will be no different."
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About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (State Impact Center) is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to helping state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks and advocate for clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
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