Press Release

Seventeen AGs Blast Administration’s Latest Effort to ‘Severely Undercut’ Endangered Species Protections

Coalition warns ‘misguided, unlawful, and destructive’ proposal would result in ‘dramatic reduction in the amount of critical habitat’ designated for protection, jeopardizing species’ survival and recovery.

Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — A coali­tion of 17 attor­neys gen­er­al led by Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Xavier Becer­ra, Mary­land Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bri­an Frosh and Mass­a­chu­setts Attor­ney Gen­er­al Mau­ra Healey sub­mit­ted com­ments today in oppo­si­tion to a pro­pos­al by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice that would skew the process for des­ig­nat­ing crit­i­cal habi­tat for pro­tec­tion under the Endan­gered Species Act in favor of devel­op­ment and extrac­tive indus­try inter­ests.

With every blow the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion deals to the Endan­gered Species Act, icon­ic species like the Cal­i­for­nia con­dor and Chi­nook salmon are pushed clos­er to extinc­tion,” said AG Becer­ra. If we want to avoid hit­ting the point of no return, we need to be strength­en­ing envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions, not weak­en­ing them. We urge the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice to recon­sid­er this bla­tant­ly unlaw­ful pro­pos­al. The fate of our endan­gered species should not lie in the hands of indus­try inter­ests.”

Pro­tec­tion of crit­i­cal habi­tat is an essen­tial fac­tor in achiev­ing the recov­ery of our nation’s most imper­iled species,” said AG Frosh. The Trump Admin­is­tra­tion would allow exploita­tion of that habi­tat in vio­la­tion of the Endan­gered Species Act. The pro­posed rule would ele­vate eco­nom­ic inter­ests over the needs of endan­gered species and crip­ple our abil­i­ty to achieve species recov­ery.”

In their com­ments, the attor­neys gen­er­al warn that the pro­pos­al under­mines and con­flicts with the Endan­gered Species Act, lacks rea­soned jus­ti­fi­ca­tion required under the Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act, and vio­lates the Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act (NEPA):

Endan­gered Species Act — The pro­pos­al would impose a new manda­to­ry oblig­a­tion” on the Ser­vice to under­take an analy­sis of the ben­e­fits of exclud­ing an area from a crit­i­cal habi­tat des­ig­na­tion when­ev­er a pro­po­nent of exclu­sion — such as a devel­op­er or a min­ing or log­ging com­pa­ny — pro­vides cred­i­ble infor­ma­tion” in sup­port of their posi­tion. This change direct­ly con­flicts with the Endan­gered Species Act, which the attor­neys gen­er­al empha­size makes clear that an exclu­sion analy­sis and find­ing is always dis­cre­tionary.” This has been con­firmed repeat­ed­ly by the courts, which have uni­form­ly held that an exclu­sion analy­sis is dis­cre­tionary.”

The pro­pos­al would also give pri­vate inter­ests inap­pro­pri­ate and exces­sive influ­ence over exclu­sion analy­sis itself by requir­ing the Ser­vice to defer to out­side experts’ and sources’ with first­hand infor­ma­tion’ regard­ing non­bi­o­log­i­cal impacts’” and in some cas­es to defer to such out­side experts and sources as to bio­log­i­cal impacts that are express­ly with­in [the Service’s] exper­tise.” This con­flicts with the Endan­gered Species Act’s require­ment that the Ser­vice base crit­i­cal habi­tat deter­mi­na­tions on its own inde­pen­dent pro­fes­sion­al judg­ment using the best avail­able sci­ence,” and threat­ens to reduc[e] — poten­tial­ly dras­ti­cal­ly — the amount of crit­i­cal habi­tat ulti­mate­ly des­ig­nat­ed and pro­tect­ed” under the statute, under­min­ing its fun­da­men­tal pur­pose of ensur­ing list­ed species’ sur­vival and recov­ery.

Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act — The Service’s pro­pos­al rep­re­sents a dra­mat­ic change in approach” from its exist­ing pol­i­cy, and is nei­ther jus­ti­fied nor explained” as required under the Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act. Fur­ther­more, the pro­pos­al would give unques­tioned weight to infor­ma­tion pre­sent­ed by unspec­i­fied and unde­fined out­side experts’ and sources,’” which is incon­sis­tent with a Fed­er­al agency’s fun­da­men­tal oblig­a­tion under basic prin­ci­ples of admin­is­tra­tive law to exer­cise its own inde­pen­dent judg­ment based on the law and the record before it.”

Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act — The Ser­vice wrong­ly asserts that its pro­pos­al falls under an exist­ing NEPA cat­e­gor­i­cal exclu­sion, despite the sig­nif­i­cant, adverse envi­ron­men­tal impacts” that would flow from it. The pro­pos­al indis­putably qual­i­fies” as a major fed­er­al action requir­ing full NEPA review, par­tic­u­lar­ly when con­sid­ered in con­junc­tion with the Service’s pro­posed restric­tive def­i­n­i­tion of habi­tat” under the Endan­gered Species Act, which a coali­tion of attor­neys gen­er­al warned would arbi­trar­i­ly lim­it the Ser­vices’ abil­i­ty to recov­er imper­iled species by reduc­ing — in some cas­es poten­tial­ly severe­ly — the amount and type of crit­i­cal habi­tat that can be pro­tect­ed under the Act.”

The attor­neys gen­er­al of Con­necti­cut, Illi­nois, Michi­gan, Neva­da, New Jer­sey, New Mex­i­co, New York, North Car­oli­na, Ore­gon, Penn­syl­va­nia, Rhode Island, Ver­mont, Wash­ing­ton and Wis­con­sin, along with the City of New York, joined AG Becer­ra, AG Frosh and AG Healey in sub­mit­ting the comments.

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About the State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter
The State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter (State Impact Cen­ter) is a non-par­ti­san Cen­ter at the NYU School of Law that is ded­i­cat­ed to help­ing state attor­neys gen­er­al fight against reg­u­la­to­ry roll­backs and advo­cate for clean ener­gy, cli­mate change, and envi­ron­men­tal val­ues and pro­tec­tions. For more infor­ma­tion, vis­it our web­site.