By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
Today, 17 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and New York City filed a lawsuit to block the Trump administration from making harmful changes to how the Endangered Species Act, the bedrock law that protects endangered and threatened animal species and their habitats, is implemented by the federal government.
The HSUS and a coalition of animal protection and conservation organizations represented by Earthjustice filed a similar lawsuit last month seeking to overturn the changes. We are pleased to see the attorneys general of 17 states, led by California, Massachusetts and Maryland – along with those of two major cities – join their legal firepower with ours in what is shaping up to be one of the most important animal protection fights of the century.
“We’re coming out swinging to defend this consequential law — humankind and the species with whom we share this planet depend on it,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not to destroy it.”
This is encouraging news for those of us who have been raising the alarm over the changes, which were finalized last month, despite an outpouring of concern from citizens and groups like ours. More than 800,000 people spoke out in opposition when they were first proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year. And soon after that the HSUS and other animal protection and environmental groups came together to file a lawsuit challenging this attempt to weaken core provisions of the Act, making it harder to grant and maintain protections for species facing extinction around the globe.
The new rules strip newly listed threatened species of vital safeguards, create hurdles to list species threatened by climate change, weaken protection of critical habitat, and make it easier for federal agencies to ignore the impact of government actions on listed species. They also direct regulators to assess economic impacts when making decisions about whether species should be listed, tipping the scales against animals who happen to live in areas targeted by business operations like mining, oil drilling or development.
These changes are unacceptable because they have the potential to do irreparable harm to imperiled wildlife. With climate change threatening nearly one million plant and animal species, as a United Nations report pointed out earlier this year, it is more important than ever that we strengthen the Endangered Species Act, not destroy it. The future of our planet depends on it, and we are in good company as we fight to preserve it.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.