Endangered Species Act’s Pending Trump Revamp Faces 16-State Lawsuit

September 25, 2019, 8:44 PM UTC
Wildlife, ranching and oil & gas interests sometimes collide on Wyoming's land
Business interests have fought to prevent Wyoming's sage grouse from being protected by the Endangered Species Act. The bird is part of an umbrella species for others needing sagebrush habitat, including pygmy rabbits, mule deer, and sagebrush voles. Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images
Melanie Stetson Freeman—The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

Sixteen states, the District of Columbia, and New York City, are suing to block Trump administration rules weakening the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco, follows a similar challenge filed last month by several environmental groups, including the Humane Society, and the Sierra Club.

The new rules begin taking effect Thursday. They, for the first time, allow officials to consider how much it would cost to save a species. They also remove blanket protections for animals newly listed as threatened and make it easier for creatures to be removed from the protected list.

The administration and congressional Republicans have said the changes improve the law. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said they ease “the regulatory burden on the American public” without sacrificing conservation goals.

Democratic Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson called it “death by a thousand cuts” for the law.

California, Washington, and Maryland are the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit, on which Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, the District of Columbia, and New York City, also joined.

“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 the Golden State’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra, in a statement. “As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not to destroy it. 

Bureau of Land Management chief’s recusal

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s top steward of public lands has recused himself from work involving dozens of former clients following conflict of interest allegations from lawmakers and environmental advocates, federal officials disclosed Wednesday.

Acting Bureau of Land Management Director William “Perry” Pendley is a former property rights attorney who has argued for selling off public lands and railed against what he has labelled the “tyranny” of the federal government.

Pendley said in a Wednesday email to his staff obtained by The Associated Press that he wanted to set an example for the agency’s 9,000 employees by avoiding the potential conflicts.

He agreed not to participate in matters involving 57 entities and individuals—from farming and mining organizations to an energy company seeking to drill on land adjacent to Glacier National Park, according to documents released by officials.

The Trump administration already has moved to weaken some protections for public lands, including easing restrictions on oil and gas exploration. BLM officials last week said the agency was moving its headquarters from Washington to an office building in Colorado that also houses oil and gas organizations, drawing criticism from environmental groups.

“I understand that preserving a culture of ethical compliance within the BLM begins with me,” Pendley wrote. “I have also established a rigorous screening process to ensure that I will remain in full compliance.”

Montana U.S. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester sharply criticized Pendley’s past calls to sell off public lands and called his appointment an end-run around the Senate since no confirmation hearings were held. Others in Congress voiced similar concerns about Pendley’s record.

The BLM leader said last month that his longtime advocacy for selling public lands was “irrelevant” because his boss, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, opposes the wholesale sale of public lands.

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