Attorneys general challenge changes to Endangered Species Act

Revisions allow for commercial considerations when considering protection of a species.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced this week that he has joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general and the city of New York in suing the Trump Administration for rollbacks of the Endangered Species Act, which were enacted in September. The lawsuit, first filed on Sept. 24 in South District Court for the Northern District of California, argues that the decision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to revise key requirements and purpose of the Endangered Species Act is unlawful.

“My job is to protect Minnesotans, especially when the federal government won’t. Every Minnesotan loves our state’s natural beauty: protecting our natural environment defines us as Minnesotans. The Trump Administration’s undermining of the Endangered Species Act is not only unlawful, it’s un-Minnesotan,” Ellison said.

Enacted under the Nixon Administration in 1973, the ESA is intended “to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost.” Revised rules inject economic considerations into the conservation practice of species protection, according to a list of issues outlined in the lawsuit. It also no longer provides the same level of protection to threatened species as it does to endangered species. Finally, long-term threats, such as climate change, would no longer be a relevant variable.

“The revisions finalized with this rulemaking fit squarely within the President’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in August. “These changes were subject to a robust, transparent public process, during which we received significant public input that helped us finalize these rules.”

Ellison is joined in the lawsuit by Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, who also joined the suit this week; by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who are leading the suit; and by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington; and by the city of New York.

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