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Federal Judge Rejects Trump Administration’s Attempt to Dismiss Lawsuit Over Endangered Species Act Rules


A federal judge in California rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a bloc of Democratic state attorneys general challenging the administration’s new rules for applying the Endangered Species Act (ESA), meaning that the case will be allowed to proceed.

In the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Sept. 2019, the states alleged that the administration’s “final rule” for applying the ESA violated the “language, structure, and purpose” of the statute passed by Congress in 1973, and exceeded the scope of federal agencies’ “jurisdiction, authority, and discretion.”

The lawsuit was filed by California’s attorney general and joined by Massachusetts, Maryland, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, District of Columbia, and the City of New York.

The new ESA rules, announced in August of 2019, made it easier for species to be removed from the “endangered species” list, weakened protections for “threatened species” (one step below endangered), and most notably allowed federal officials to conduct an economic assessment to consider how much it would cost to save a particular species from possible extinction. The rules also made it more difficult for scientists to factor in the effects of climate change in assessing the overall threat to a species.

In response to the lawsuit, the administration argued that the states did not have standing to sue the federal government of application of the ESA, claiming that the states were required to challenge a “concrete application” of the new rules and could not sue based on hypothetical future effects.

In a 19-page decision, U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar, an appointee of President Barack Obama, reasoned that the states had alleged facts sufficient to “demonstrate a cognizable injury-in-fact,” based on three factors.

First, Tigar ruled that the allegations established a “geographical nexus” between the states and the locations that would be affected by the final rule. Second, that the states established a reasonable probability that the administration’s new rules, once applied, posed a direct threat to the states’ interest in conserving their natural resources. And third, Tigar found it was “reasonably probable that the alleged weakening of federal protections will result in “economic harm” to State Plaintiffs by shifting a greater responsibility for, and burden of, protecting imperiled species and habitats to the states.”

Read Tigar’s full ruling below:

5 18 20 California v Bernha… by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.