In what they vowed would be the first set of claims in a larger legal challenge, eight environmental groups said Wednesday they have filed a lawsuit seeking to block changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that were recently finalized by the Trump administration.
"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,” said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles.
The Trump administration said Aug. 12 that it had finalized changes to portions of the ESA dealing with adding or removing species from the act's protections, a move that could have significant effects on the oil and natural gas industry.
The revisions, according to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), would not alter ESA's direction that determinations to add or remove a species from the lists of threatened or endangered species be based solely on the best available scientific and commercial information. At the same time, the revisions "clarify that the standards for delisting and reclassification of a species consider the same five statutory factors as the listing of a species in the first place," DOI said.
Critics of the changes to ESA argued that it was another attempt by the Trump administration to remove climate change from the considerations of regulatory agencies.
"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 Sierra Club attorney Karimah Schoenhut. "In the face of the climate crisis, the result of this abandonment of responsibility will be extinction."
In their lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, the environmental groups argue that the Trump administration failed to publicly disclose and analyze the harms and impacts of the rules, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, and included changes in the final rules that were never made public and were not subject to public comment.
The administration also violated the language and purpose of the ESA "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 groups said.
Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of 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.
The same groups filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue on additional claims related to ESA Section 4.