Hot on the heels of the Trump administration’s decision to aggressively weaken the nation’s highly effective Endangered Species Act, eight environmental organizations have launched a legal challenge, citing multiple violations of due process as well as a fundamental breach in the enshrined federal duty to protect America’s wildlife.
Earthjustice, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Natural Resources Defense Council are among the organizations involved in the legal action.
Scheduled to go into effect in September, Trump’s efforts at gutting the Act’s powers “include a revision that will allow economic considerations in the decision-making process for listing a species, and one that will remove automatic protections for newly-listed threatened species,” reports InsideClimate News. “The new rules will also make it harder to designate ‘unoccupied habitat’—which refers to habitat that might not be a species’ primary habitat—as critical.”
Jason Rylander, senior staff attorney with one of the plaintiffs, Defenders of Wildlife, said that particular amendment could “be very important in the long term, especially with climate change, when migration is changing.”
“In fact, the language is designed specifically to prevent looking at the consequences beyond the present day, which is exactly what we need to be doing with respect to climate change,” said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles. “It goes entirely in the wrong direction.”
NRDC attorney Rebecca Riley agreed, adding that “the recent UN biodiversity report concluded that one million species around the globe are at risk of extinction because of climate change, and rather than taking steps to address the crisis, the administration is weakening the rules and prioritizing the interests of polluters.”
In their push to have the Trump administration’s amendments reversed, the plaintiffs are charging that it “violated two procedural laws—one that requires a full environmental analysis of any major rule changes, and another that requires that the public has a chance to review and comment on them,” InsideClimate notes. After “the proposed changes, first put forward by the administration last year, received about 800,000 comments, mostly opposed to the revisions,” the plaintiffs further allege “that the administration made major changes in the final rules that the public was never allowed to review.”
They also charge that “the administration violated a key section of the law that requires federal agencies to ensure that their actions don’t jeopardize the survival of any threatened or endangered species, and don’t destroy or ‘adversely modify’ habitat that has been designated as critical for a species’ survival.”
Environmental NGOs will not be alone in their efforts to thwart Trump’s attack on endangered species and, by extension, biodiversity itself, InsideClimate reports, with the attorneys general of California and Massachusetts planning lawsuits of their own.