Oklahoma, Gas & Oil Firms Sue Uncle Sam

     TULSA (CN) - Oklahoma and the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance sued the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday, accusing them of engaging in "sue and settle" tactics to discourage oil and gas development.
     Consisting of 15 coalitions representing 10,000 people and companies in the domestic oil and natural gas industry, the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance said the lawsuit is a response to "unprecedented secret settlements" between Fish and Wildlife and environmentalist groups that allowed the agency to complete hundreds of Endangered Species Act listing decisions within a few years.
     Federal officials are bound by statute to make Endangered Species Act listing decisions based "solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available ... after conducting a review of the status of species and after taking into account those efforts, if any, being made by any state ... to protect such species [including] conservation practices, within any area under its' jurisdiction," the complaint states.
     The alliance claims that Fish and Wildlife committed itself to making the decisions before states' voluntary efforts were given a chance to remove threats to certain species.
     Wild Earth Guardians sued Fish and Wildlife in 2010, claiming it failed to meet deadlines to assign listing statuses for 251 species, including the lesser prairie chicken.
     Oklahoma claims the bird has been under evaluation for endangered status for years, resulting in the state and private industry spending $26 million on their own voluntary conservation plan.
     "Those efforts could be undone without input from the state because of a consent decree between the FWS and a national environmental group," Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in a statement Monday. "Oklahoma has indicated its willingness to protect the lesser prairie chicken but it seems increasingly clear this issue isn't about sound science or saving endangered species. Using the courts to impose regulations undermines the rule of law."
     The lawsuit accuses the Fish and Wildlife Service of violating the Endangered Species Act by agreeing in the settlement to not consider the statutorily created "warranted but precluded" category when determining the listing status of the 251 candidate species.
     It also claims Fish and Wildlife illegally agreed to a shortened decision-making process on the listing status of the species, "sidestepping the rule making process."
     In a statement Monday, the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance said citizens were deprived of their constitutional rights and rights under the Administrative Procedure Act to participate in the proceedings that resulted in the "secret settlements."
     "As a result, the ESA, a statute originally created to protect species, is now being used to thwart oil and natural gas development and destroy private property rights throughout the United States," the alliance said.
     The alliance said its members will incur expenses to comply with a rule accompanying a listing to avoid ESA violations, as well as being exposed to possible criminal ESA violations.
     Oklahoma said its regulatory burden will be increased and its flexibility to regulate habitat will be reduced.
     Oklahoma and the alliance seek declaratory judgment that the defendants violated the Endangered Species Act, the Administrative Procedures Act and the Constitution by eliminating the ability to retain candidate species classification for Oklahoma candidate species and by failing to consider available data and conservation measures.