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White House faces suit on order lifting endangered species protections

White House faces suit on order lifting endangered species protections
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An environmental group on Tuesday said it will sue the White House if President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE doesn’t walk back an executive order that waives endangered species protections along with a host of other environmental laws.

The Thursday order from Trump relies on emergency authority to waive the requirements of a number of environmental laws, arguing the U.S. needs to fast-track construction projects to fight the economic fallout tied to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The order could be a boon to controversial projects that have lingered while agencies undertake environmental reviews, ranging from pipelines to oil and gas drilling to highway construction.

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Weighing how those projects might impact imperiled plant and animal life is just one of the considerations.

But the suit from the Center for Biological Diversity argues the Trump administration is violating laws that allow for sidestepping environmental review only in fast-moving emergencies like an environmental disaster.

“Congress made the deliberate decision not to elevate general economic activity and ordinary infrastructure projects above the interests of imperiled species but, rather, to ‘afford’ listed species ‘the highest of priorities’ even above the ‘primary missions’ of federal agencies,” the Center wrote in its letter of intent to sue.

The letter follows guidelines requiring a 60 day notice before filing a suit.

"President Trump has used his lawful executive authority to expedite infrastructure projects and the economic recovery while protecting the environment, and CBD is misreading the plain text of the order to push a radical, Green New Deal-like agenda," White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an email, using an abbreviation for the Center. 

The Trump administration has taken a number of steps to weaken the Endangered Species Act.

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A rule finalized by the administration in August dramatically scales back America’s landmark conservation law, limiting protections for threatened species and how factors like climate change can be considered in listing decisions. It also curbs the review process used before projects are approved on their habitat. 

The Thursday order also lifts environmental review required under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act — all of which Trump argued was necessary.

“From the beginning of my Administration, I have focused on reforming and streamlining an outdated regulatory system that has held back our economy with needless paperwork and costly delays,” Trump wrote in the order. “The need for continued progress in this streamlining effort is all the more acute now, due to the ongoing economic crisis.”

However, numerous legal experts have expressed concern over the use of emergency authority by the White House, and additional lawsuits are likely.

“Trump’s authoritarianism seems to reach deranged new levels every week,” Kierán Suckling, the Center for Biological Diversity’s executive director, said in a release. 

“The president’s not above the law. Inciting federal agencies to violate the Endangered Species Act is part of a pattern he’s displayed throughout his presidency. He’s encouraging officials to ignore the rules and obey his whims," he added.

Rachel Frazin contributed. 

Updated at 4:49 p.m.