(CN) – The fledgling Trump administration faces yet another lawsuit, this time over the suspension of the Endangered Species Act listing for the critically imperiled rusty patched bumblebee - which the Obama administration had fast-tracked to be effective on Feb. 10.
However, an executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Inauguration Day froze the effective dates of all pending regulations for 60 days, including the one for the rusty patched bee. The Natural Resources Defense Council, an international nonprofit environmental group, sued over the delay on Tuesday in the Southern District of New York, claiming the freeze is illegal.
“The Trump administration broke the law by blocking the rusty patched bumblebee from the endangered species list. The science is clear – this species is headed toward extinction, and soon,” NRDC senior attorney Rebecca Riley said. “There is no legitimate reason to delay federal protections for this bee. In this case, the decision to freeze protections for the rusty patched bumble bee without public notice and comment violates the law.”
The delay was also decried by the Xerces Society conservation group, which had filed a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013 to initiate the process for having the bumblebee listed as endangered, and which then partnered with the NRDC to sue the agency for not timely acting on the petition.
“The rule published by the USFWS in January of 2017, along with associated documents, provided clear and convincing evidence that this species is in immediate danger of extinction and in need of federal protection under the Endangered Species Act,” Xerces senior endangered species conservation biologist Rich Hatfield said. “Protections for the rusty patched bumblebee have already been delayed for over four years. Any additional delay would further imperil this animal, and could ultimately lead to its extinction. Extinction is forever, and to quote a friend of mine - Sam Droege, a biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey - ‘bees are not optional.’”
Bees are important pollinators, and pollinators worldwide are in steep decline. Several other pollinators were placed under ESA protection in recent years due to pesticide use, development, climate change, disease and other threats. The Xerces Society estimates that native pollinators, not counting (non-native) honey bees, annually provide $9 billion worth of agricultural services in the United States alone, and a United Nations study released last year found that 75 percent of the world’s food crops, annually valued at $557 billion, rely on pollinators.
The outcome of the NRDC lawsuit over the listing delay for the rusty patched bee could have interesting impacts on the regulatory freeze executive order, which is a common practice for incoming administrations. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in New York City, claims that agencies cannot suspend the listing because the rule was final when it was published in the Federal Register on Jan. 11, before the new administration took office. The group seeks an order vacating the USFWS delay rule issued in response to the Executive Order.
This is the third lawsuit the NRDC has filed against the new administration. The group sued the Environmental Protection Agency after it rescinded a rule to protect the public from more than five tons of mercury discharges each year in response to the same regulatory freeze directive. And last week, the NRDC partnered with Public Citizen and Communications Workers of America in a suit to block a Jan. 30 executive order that requires agencies to repeal two existing regulations for every proposed new regulation, the group said.
These two executive orders, coupled with the nomination of anti-environment appointees to head environment-related agencies, have clearly signaled the new administration’s stance on environmental issues. Whether the regulatory freeze was aimed specifically at preventing protection for the rusty patched bumblebee or not, these environmental groups believe the delay could have a significant impact on the survival of the remaining small populations of a species that has already lost close to 90 percent of its range over the past 20 years, according to the NRDC.
Named defendants include acting Interior Secretary Kevin Haugrud, acting Fish and Wildlife director James Kurth and his agency.
NRDC is represented by in-house attorney Margaret Hsieh.