BALTIMORE – Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh joined 17 other attorney generals and the City of New York on Sept. 25 in filing a lawsuit over the Trump administration’s rollback of parts of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Frosh joins Xavier Becerra (California), Maura Healey (Massachusetts), Phil Weiser (Colorado), William Tong (Connecticut), Kwame Raoul (Illinois), Dana Nessel (Michigan), Aaron Ford (Nevada), Gubir Grewal (New Jersey), Hector Balderas (New Mexico), Letitia James (New York), Joshua H. Stein (North Carolina), Ellen Rosenblum (Oregon), Josh Shapiro (Pennsylvania), Peter F. Neronha (Rhode Island), Thomas J. Donovan (Vermont), Robert W. Ferguson (Washington state), Karl A. Racine (District of Columbia) as the state attorney generals, along with Georgia Pestana (Corporation Counsel for New York City), filing the suit against Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service.
“The Trump Administration is waging war on the ESA’s decades of success, undoing protections that have saved many kinds of wildlife and preserved millions of acres of critical habitat,” said Frosh in a news release. “Deciding whether to protect endangered species is not an economic question. These decisions must be guided by science, not by profits and political influence.”
The lawsuit comes on the heels of proposed changes to the Act by the Trump administration in August. The changes would impact sections 4 and 7 of the ESA, sections dealing with the addition/removal of species from the list and the consultation with other government agencies, respectively.
“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 Ross. “These changes were subject to a robust, transparent public process, during which we received significant public input that helped us finalize these rules.”
With the changes, the species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service designated as threatened in the future will no longer have the same protections as species designated as endangered, as done in the past.
That will not be retroactive; however, like threatened species before, the changes will still have the same protections as endangered ones.
In Maryland alone, there are 21 species listed on the ESA, 13 animals, and eight plants. Of those species, six animals and four plants are listed as endangered. The ESA protects more than 1,600 species of animals and plants, and millions of acres of land are designated as critical habitats.
Some of the Maryland species on the ESA include the federally endangered dwarf wedgemussel, federally threatened bog turtle and the federally threatened puritan tiger beetle.
As with many species on the list, the species may inhabit different states and per the suit, “Maryland, therefore, has a distinct interest in the recovery of these species not just within its own borders but throughout each species’ range.”
“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal—recovery of our rarest species.
“The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation,” said Bernhardt in a news release. “An effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”
The lawsuit, however, argues that the changes “violate the plain language and purpose of the ESA, its legislative history, numerous binding judicial precedents interpreting the ESA and its precautionary approach to protecting imperiled species and critical habitat” as well as lack a “reasoned basis.”
Also, in contention is the change that allows federal agencies to circumscribe the cost of determining the status of a species. The suit states that the change “injects economic considerations into the ESA’s science-driven, species-focused analyses by removing the statutory restriction on considering economic impacts.”