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Press Release AG Healey Sues Trump Administration over New Rules That Gut the Endangered Species Act Protections

Illegal New Rules Make It Easier to Remove and Limit Species Protections and Pave the Way for Approval of Oil and Gas and Other Development Projects Despite Threats to Species
For immediate release:
9/25/2019
  • Office of Attorney General Maura Healey

Media Contact for AG Healey Sues Trump Administration over New Rules That Gut the Endangered Species Act Protections

Chloe Gotsis

BOSTON Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, along with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, today led a coalition of 18 attorneys general and the City of New York in suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) over final rules that eviscerate many of the federal Endangered Species Act’s key protections for at-risk wildlife and their habitats.

“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,” AG Healey said. “We are suing to defend federal law and protect our imperiled wildlife and environment.”

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is one of the country’s most successful environmental laws. Since it was enacted more than four decades ago with nearly unanimous bipartisan support, 99 percent of all ESA-listed species have not gone extinct. Multiple species at the brink of extinction have seen dramatic population increases, including the whooping crane and shortnose sturgeon, and the ESA has resulted in the successful recovery and delisting of our national bird, the bald eagle, as well as the American peregrine falcon and other species.

According to today’s lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California, the  Administration’s final rules will significantly harm species recovery efforts, deeply undermining the ESA’s focus on science while allowing the federal government to ignore or discount the profound threats that climate change poses to species and the environment.

The lawsuit argues the final rules limit the circumstances by when a species can be listed as threatened, injects economic considerations into species-focused listing analysis, and does away with the requirement that the agencies consider the ability of a species to recover before removing it from the endangered or threatened list. The lawsuit further alleges that the final rules ignore scientific evidence, lack any reasoned basis, are arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act, and gut the ESA’s core mandate that federal agencies consult with FWS and NMFS to ensure that federal actions do not pose a threat to protected species. Despite these significant harms, FWS and NMFS failed to review the rules’ potential environmental impacts and allow for the required public comment period, as required by law, when crafting the final regulations.

The ESA’s protections have boosted vital recreation and tourism industries that fuel local Massachusetts economies, including birdwatching and whale watching. Massachusetts is home to at least 25 endangered or threatened species listed and protected under the ESA, including the piping plover and the leatherback sea turtle. Thanks to cooperative state and federal actions, the piping plover has rebounded nationally, especially in Massachusetts where populations have increased by 500 percent since 1990. Not only will the final rules hinder these cooperative efforts, they will shift the burden of protecting imperiled species and habitats onto states, imposing significant costs and detracting from their efforts to carry out their own programs.

“This is another example of the Trump Administration’s continuing war on the nature of America,” said Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton. “The Endangered Species Act is the last, best protector for the nation’s plants and animals on the brink of extinction. With Attorney General Maura Healey, we will work to see that the Endangered Species Act itself does not go extinct.”

“Each day in our clinic, we see the obstacles to survival wildlife encounter as a consequence of human activity,” said Dr. Maureen Murray, assistant director of Tufts Wildlife Clinic at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. “Our patients include species whose populations are of concern within the state of Massachusetts. The challenges these species—and all of our native wildlife—face are only growing in light of the interrelated threats of climate change, emerging infectious diseases, and habitat alteration. A strong Endangered Species Act is crucial to ensuring that effective conservation measures at the federal level continue to be available to augment the state’s efforts for the protection of our most vulnerable species.”

These misguided final rules are particularly disturbing in the wake of the United Nation’s recent intergovernmental biodiversity report, which presents an alarming picture of the global extinction crisis facing a million species—more than in any other historic period. As the report emphasizes, this extinction crisis has grave implications for human health and well-being that cannot be ignored.

AG Healey has long advocated for the protection of endangered species. In September 2018, she co-led a group of 10 attorneys general in submitting comments that urged the Administration to withdraw its proposed new rules to dismantle key ESA protections, and last month, AG Healey announced her intent to sue to block the final rules. Earlier this month, she sent a letter to the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers calling on the coalition to work together and take action  to increase protections for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, a species teetering on the brink of extinction.

Today’s lawsuit was led by AG Healey of Massachusetts, AG Becerra of California, and AG Frosh of Maryland and joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the City of New York.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Matthew Ireland and Turner Smith, both of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division. 

Click here for a video of AG Healey discussing today’s lawsuit.

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Media Contact for AG Healey Sues Trump Administration over New Rules That Gut the Endangered Species Act Protections

Office of Attorney General Maura Healey 

Attorney General Maura Healey is the chief lawyer and law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
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