17 states sue Trump administration over weakening of Endangered Species Act

17 states sue Trump administration over weakening of Endangered Species Act
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A coalition of state Attorneys General — led by California, Maryland and Massachusetts — are suing the Trump administration over recent changes made to the way it enforces the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

California AG Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraTrump administration ends five-year oil and gas drilling moratorium in California  Feds won't pursue charges against Sacramento officers who fatally shot Stephon Clark Overnight Energy: 17 states sue Trump over weakening of Endangered Species Act | Federal land agency chief releases 17-page recusal list | UN climate report warns of warming oceans, sea level rise MORE (D) challenged the Trump administration’s changes to the way it will protect species under the ESA as a choice “to prioritize endangering endangered species rather than protecting them.”

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The lawsuit follows the administration’s announcement in August that it would weaken protections on various plants and animals, opting to no longer regulate threatened species at the same degree as endangered species. The procedural changes finalized by the Fish and Wildlife Service, also changed protections of species habitat and allowed economic factors to be weighed before adding an animal to the list.

“Whether or not an animal should be protected should not be a question of whether or not it will help or impede corporate profits,” said Becerra at a press conference Wednesday. “The law is clear.”

Environmental groups also filed suit over the ESA rollback in August.

A spokesperson for the Interior Department defended the ESA changes.

"These are long overdue and necessary regulatory changes that will recover more imperiled species facing extinction than previously accomplished over the span of this law. We will see them in court, and we will be steadfast in our implementation of this important act to improve conservation efforts across the country," the spokesperson said in a statement.

Becerra said the future health of the planet depends on the success of those creatures. He pointed to the bald eagle and the California condor as protected species that have relied on the ESA to bring back their populations.

The animals that we are talking about ... are not just a symbol of this country, they are key parts of our ecosystem — these ecosystems are facing increasing threats in the face of our climate crisis,” said Becerra.

The lawsuit comes as recent reports have painted a dire picture of the fate of biodiversity in a warming globe. A United Nations report in May estimated that nearly a million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction due to climate change. A study released last week found that in North America alone in the past 50 years, bird populations have declined by nearly 30 percent.

Becerra argued the changes to the ESA would directly impact California species. He said the new rules impact 35 animals and 98 plant species that are awaiting protection.

California last year brought another lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging changes it made to weaken migratory bird protections. 

“We don’t challenge these actions because we want to pick a fight, we challenge them because it is necessary, said Becerra.