Critical Endangered Species Act Protections Restored by Federal Court Decision

Critical Endangered Species Act Protections Restored by Federal Court Decision

This week, we are celebrating a federal court’s major decision to restore vital Endangered Species Act protections that had been compromised and rolled back during the Trump administration. This landmark policy is often considered the world’s most powerful wildlife protection law and this ruling will be vital to ensuring imperiled species, like the Northwest’s wild fish and endangered orcas, receive the protections they desperately need.

This victory is the result of a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental and animal protection groups who sued the Trump administration over new 2019 regulations that dramatically weakened the Endangered Species Act and threatened to upend decades of clarity and protections for hundreds of species.

Through the lawsuit, the coalition charged the Trump administration violated the law when it enacted these new regulations by failing to publicly disclose and analyze the harms and impacts of these rules, failing to provide required public review and comment opportunities to the American public during the policy-making process, and violating the language and purpose of the Endangered Species Act by failing to ensure these changes to the law would not cause jeopardy or permanent destruction of habitat for threatened and endangered species. Among the new package of regulations were rules that would have allowed economic considerations to affect listing decisions and eliminated automatic protections for newly-listed ‘Threatened’ species.

The four federal agencies challenged in the case asked the Court to allow them to partially rewrite these flawed regulations, while keeping them in place during a rulemaking process expected to take years to complete. Thankfully, the Court disagreed with this misguided approach and vacated the 2019 regulations instead.

This decision will restore full protections to species listed as ‘Threatened’, eliminate hurdles to protecting fish and wildlife vulnerable to the long-term effects of climate change, and reaffirms that the survival of species must take precedence over industry profits.

Even those celebrating this major decision point out that these protections could have been restored much quicker if they had been rescinded by the Biden administration on day one. There are still many more Trump-era environmental policy rollbacks in place that undermine the protection of clean air, water quality, and fish and wildlife habitat in the U.S. We’re hopeful this ruling will motivate and inspire the current administration to take immediate and decisive action to address these rollbacks as well.

Harvard’s Environmental and Energy Law Program have developed a series of regulatory trackers that are great tools for educating yourself on current regulatory and litigation actions by the Biden administration related to climate change, environmental policy, and environmental justice. They also provide summaries of the significance and history of each rule, including the suite of Trump-era environmental policy rollbacks.

A huge thank you to the diverse coalition of environmental and animal welfare groups*, as well as the state and city attorney generals**, for defending America’s landmark environmental law and protecting hundreds of threatened and endangered species, including the Northwest’s wild fish, amidst the ongoing extinction crisis and in the face of our changing climate.

*Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians, and the Humane Society of the United States.

**The New York City law department and attorney generals from the following states stepped up to defend the Endangered Species Act: California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Press Release: Federal Court Restores Critical Endangered Species Act Protections | Earth Justice

Endangered Species Act restored by federal judge after Trump-era weakening | CNN

U.S. Significantly Weakens Endangered Species Act | The New York Times (August 2019)

Photo: Jean Beaufort

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