Attorney General Becerra Leads Multistate Comment Letter Challenging the Trump Administration’s Efforts to Restrict the Definition of Habitat Under the Endangered Species Act

Friday, September 4, 2020
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today, joined by 16 attorneys general, sent a comment letter challenging the Trump Administration’s attempt to narrowly and unlawfully define the term ‘habitat’ under the federal Endangered Species Act. The proposed federal rule change could restrict restoration efforts and limit government’s authority to protect plants and wildlife amid climate change.  

“The Trump Administration can’t explain its reasoning for tampering with definitions of protected habitat. Here’s the reason: They want to weaken protections for fish and wildlife so that industry can steamroll critical habitats,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Our coalition is committed to protecting all species and habitat from unnecessary disruption from industry and climate change.”

The proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service would add a new, restrictive definition of “habitat.” This definition would limit government agencies from designating and protecting habitat that is critical for species survival and recovery. In the letter, the Attorneys General urge withdrawal of the proposed rule for the following reasons:

  • The proposed rule is contrary to the Endangered Species Act’s primary purposes of promoting species survival and recovery;
  • The proposed rule is contrary to the statutory definition of “critical habitat” because it would restrict currently unoccupied habitat from being designated as such under the Act, including restored habitat or other areas that species may move into as they adapt to climate change or other human-caused activity;
  • The proposed rule is arbitrary and capricious because the administration has failed to provide any reasonable rationale for the change; and
  • The proposed rule is a substantive change that requires environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

In California, there are over 300 species listed as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act – more than any other mainland state. California also has tens of millions of acres of federal public land protected under the Act.

The federal Endangered Species Act, enacted in 1973, was intended to reverse the trendline of species extinction and has proven to be one of the nation’s strongest tools for modifying human activities in order to reduce or avoid environmental damage.

In challenging this proposal, Attorney General Becerra continues his longstanding fight to protect the Endangered Species Act. On September 25, 2019, Attorney General Becerra led a coalition of 18 attorneys general and the City of New York to file a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s rollback of the Act’s implementing regulations. And on June 29, 2020, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey led a multistate coalition in opposing President Trump’s executive order instructing federal agencies to use emergency authority to bypass the federal Endangered Species Act and other foundational environmental laws.

In filing the comment letter, Attorney General Becerra is joined by the attorneys general of Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, as well as the City of New York.

A copy of the comment letter can be found here.

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