California Leads War on Plans to Eviscerate Endangered Species Act

A bald eagle takes flight at the Museum of the Shenandaoh Valley in Winchester, Va., Feb. 1, 2016 (Scott Mason/The Winchester Star via AP, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – In a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, a coalition of states led by California accused the Trump administration of ditching science to boost corporate profits through its proposed overhaul of the Endangered Species Act.

The coalition of 18 attorneys general and the city of New York called the administration’s new rule changes “beastly” and a danger to thousands of protected species including the bald eagle and humpback whale.

“My suspicion is that the Trump administration has misread the Endangered Species Act,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra at a press conference. “My sense is they’ve chosen to prioritize endangering endangered species, rather than protecting those species.”

Filed in San Francisco federal court, the lawsuit asks the court to overturn three rule changes announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service in August.

The Trump administration says the changes will undo “unnecessary regulatory burdens” and provide a much-needed update to the 1973 law that is credited with saving thousands of species from extinction.

The fight over the Endangered Species Act is the 61st lawsuit filed by California against the Trump administration. Co-plaintiffs include states like Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan, New York and Washington state. Defendants include Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Becerra told reporters California has a concrete interest in overturning the rules because it has more endangered or threatened species than any other mainland state, not to mention millions of acres of federal public lands that could be affected by the administration’s proposal. He says the changes violate the Administrative Procedure and National Environmental Policy acts.

The former Democratic congressman said the coalition of states are “coming out swinging” in defense of the Endangered Species Act.

“Humankind and the species with whom we share this planet depend on it,” Becerra continued.

The announcement of the rule changes was far from unexpected and it inevitably roiled the nation’s largest environmental groups.

The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and several others sued to block the changes less than 10 days after they were announced. The environmentalists paint the changes as business-friendly and an added threat to species already struggling to adapt to a warming climate.

“We thank them for standing up in defense of this life-saving law, which has saved 99% of species from extinction,” the Center for Biological Diversity said in response to the multistate lawsuit.

An Interior Department spokesperson defended the rule changes as “long overdue and necessary regulatory changes that will recover more imperiled species facing extinction than previously accomplished over the span of this law,” vowing “we will see them in court, and we will be steadfast in our implementation of this important act to improve conservation efforts across the country.”

Today, the Endangered Species Act protects 1,600 plant and animal species with millions of acres designated as critical habitat for their survival and recovery. Since its enactment in 1973, more than 99% of species listed as threatened or endangered have fended off extinction.

Of the nearly 2,000 species listed as at risk of extinction, 47 were deemed “recovered” and taken off the list. Another 18 are now being considered for delisting.

The National Audubon Society, a nonprofit committed to protecting birds, said the lawsuits are particularly important in light of a recent study that estimated almost 3 billion birds have vanished from North America over the last 50 years. Meghan Hertel, the society’s director of land and water conservation, joined Becerra’s press conference and credited the Endangered Species Act with saving birds like the brown pelican, the peregrine falcon and the bald eagle.

“The Endangered Species Act works,” Hertel said. “With this lawsuit, California is once again demonstrating its leadership on environmental issues and protecting vulnerable species.”

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