Stein joins other AGs to sue Trump over Endangered Species Act rollback

Attorney General Josh Stein

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has joined a coalition of state attorneys general that’s suing the Trump administration’s over its rules weakening the 1973 Endangered Species Act.

In August, the U.S. Interior and Commerce departments announced final rule changes, including mandating that regulators must look at economic factors when determining whether a species should be classified as endangered. Environmentalists protested that allows officials to ignore the impact of climate change.

In all, 18 attorneys general and New York City are plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Together, they argue that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service’s unlawfully undermined the 46-year-old law’s key requirements.

“We’re going to try to undo what the president is proposing to do with the Endangered Species Act,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a press conference announcing the litigation.

Other states involved in the action include Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 42 species are endangered in North Carolina and 19 are threatened. These include, plants, mammals, fish, mussels, birds, insects, spiders, reptiles and amphibians.

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in August that the changes were “designed to increase transparency and effectiveness.”

“The revisions finalized with this rule-making fit squarely within the president’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said at the time. “These changes were subject to a robust, transparent public process, during which we received significant public input that helped us finalize these rules.”

In their lawsuit, the attorneys general argue that the rules as “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedure Act; unauthorized under the Endangered Species Act; and unlawful under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Of specific concern are the actions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to:

  • Add economic considerations to the Endangered Species Act’s science-driven and species focused analyses
  • Restrict the circumstances under which species can be listed as threatened
  • Expand the Act’s narrow exemptions for designating critical habitats and limit the circumstances under which a habitat would be designated, especially where climate change poses a threat
  • Reduce consultation and analyses required before federal agency action
  • Drastically depart from the longstanding, conservation-based agency policy and practice of providing the same level of protection to threatened species afforded to endangered species, which is necessary to prevent a species from becoming endangered
  • Push the responsibility for protecting endangered species and habitats onto the state, detracting from the states’ efforts to carry out their own programs and imposing significant costs
  • Exclude analysis of and public input on the rules’ significant environmental impacts

This isn’t the only attempt to fight the new Trump administration rules on endangered species. A coalition of environmental groups has filed a separate lawsuit, including: Earthjustice for the 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.

There also are efforts in Congress to fight the rollback, led by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., whose husband, former U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., wrote the original 1970s-vintage statute.

Debbie Dingell, along with House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., are sponsoring legislation repealing all of the administration’s changes to the Endangered Species Act.

“The Endangered Species Act is among the most effective ever passed. For more than 40 years, we have come together in bipartisan fashion to protect species critical to maintaining the balance of our wildlife,” Dingell said in a statement. “The Administration’s efforts to weaken Endangered Species protections are taking us in the wrong direction.”

Susan J. Demas is the editor of The Michigan Advance, a sister site to NC Policy Watch, where this story first appeared. Rob Schofield contributed to this story.

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