Seven environmental and animal protection groups teamed up to file the first lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's rollback of the Endangered Species Act.
The environmental law nonprofit Earthjustice filed the lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of the 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 lawsuit comes after the federal government earlier this month announced a series of changes to weaken the Endangered Species Act.
In a filing, the groups argue that the Trump administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to analyze the effects of the new rules. They also charge that the administration unreasonably changed requirements to comply with part of the Endangered Species Act that would have prevented any changes that could threaten the existence or habitat of any listed species.
"In the midst of an unprecedented extinction crisis, the Trump administration is eviscerating our most effective wildlife protection law," Rebecca Riley, legal director of the nature program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. "These regulatory changes will place vulnerable species in immediate danger — all to line the pockets of industry. We are counting on the courts to step in before it's too late."
Nicholas Goodwin, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of the Interior, criticized the lawsuit.
"It is unsurprising that those who repeatedly seek to weaponize the Endangered Species Act — instead of use it as a means to recover imperiled species — would choose to sue," Goodwin said. "We will see them in court, and we will be steadfast in our implementation of this important act with the unchanging goal of conserving and recovering species."
Christina Meister, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, declined to comment. Spokespeople for the National Marine Fisheries Service did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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Under the enforcement changes, officials for the first time will be able to publicly attach a cost to saving an animal or plant. Blanket protections for creatures newly listed as threatened will be removed. Among several other changes, the action could allow the government to disregard the possible impact of climate change, which conservation groups call a major and growing threat to wildlife.
A United Nations report released in May warned that more than 1 million plants and animals globally face extinction, some within decades, because of human influence, climate change and other threats.
The Endangered Species Act is credited with helping save the bald eagle, California condor and scores of other animals and plants from extinction since President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1973. The act currently protects more than 1,600 species in the United States and its territories.
But the act has also led to legal and political fights between animal protectors and industries and opponents. Republicans have long pushed to change the law.
The states of California and Massachusetts have also vowed to sue to block changes in the law.