Attorney General Becerra Adds Endangered Species Act Claim to Lawsuit Challenging Trump Administration's Revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson today, leading a multistate coalition, amended their complaint challenging the Trump Administration’s unlawful revised regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to allege the regulations also violated the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). On July 15, 2020, the Trump Administration’s Council on Environmental Quality announced a final rule upending NEPA's requirement that federal agencies comprehensively evaluate the impacts of their actions on the environment and public health. Shortly after, the coalition filed a lawsuit arguing that the rule abandoned informed decision making, public participation, and environmental and public health protections in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and NEPA. Today, the coalition argues that the Trump Administration also violated the ESA by failing to consult with federal wildlife agencies to assess impacts to listed species during the rulemaking process.
“Time and time again, the Trump Administration has demonstrated willful disregard for the preservation of our imperiled fish and wildlife,” said Attorney General Becerra. “So it's hardly shocking that it failed to consult with federal wildlife agencies before finalizing this unlawful rule. But that doesn't mean we're going to let them break the law.”
Enacted under the Nixon Administration in 1973, the ESA is intended “to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost.” Section 7 of the ESA requires a federal agency to engage in formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service when a proposed federal action “may affect a listed species or critical habitat.” California is home to over 300 species listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA — more than any other mainland state. These species – which include the southern sea otter, the desert tortoise, and Chinook salmon – are affected by federal projects throughout California.
The Trump Administration failed to consult with federal wildlife agencies regarding the impacts that the final rule might have on federally listed endangered and threatened species, as required by Section 7. Bypassing the ESA’s formal consultation process, the Trump Administration concluded that the final rule, which makes significant changes to how federal agencies review the environmental impacts of their actions, will have “no effect” on listed species or designated critical habitats. The Trump Administration did not provide any meaningful analysis or supporting evidence for this conclusion.
In amending the complaint, the coalition argues that the Trump Administration’s decision to forego consultation with the federal wildlife agencies and finding that the rule will result in no impact to listed species are arbitrary and capricious and violate the ESA and the Administrative Procedure Act.
Attorneys General Becerra and Ferguson are joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia, and Guam, as well as the City of New York, Harris County, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in filing the amended complaint.
A copy of the amended complaint can be found here.