U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar has voided a set of substantial changes made by the Trump administration to the federal protections for imperiled animal and plant species contained in the Endangered Species Act.
“Changes under Trump had made it easier to remove protections for threatened animals and plants, and allowed federal agencies to conduct economic assessments when deciding whether to protect a species from matters like construction projects in critical habitats,” CNBC explains. Performing an economic assessment when dealing with the question of imposing protections for particular species sounds like it could easily lead to business concerns getting in the way of environmental protection, depending on what factor is determined to outweigh the other. “It also removed tools that scientists used to forecast future damage to species from climate change,” CNBC explains of what Trump’s administration did. Eliminating that pathway for an analysis of potential future impacts on plant and animal species only further threatened the ability to actually impose key protections.
Tigar’s move puts protections back in place for hundreds of species, according to CNBC’s report. Litigation over this issue has been unfolding for years, since groups including EarthJustice, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others brought a 2019 lawsuit against the Trump administration. A group of states led by California joined that case. That original case alleged Trump’s administration failed “to publicly disclose and analyze the harms and impacts of its rules” and violated provisions of the Endangered Species Act, as UPI reported. More recently, federal agencies in the Biden administration sought court approval for a plan in which they’d partly redo the challenged Endangered Species Act regulations but leave them in effect while that process unfolded, allowing for a routine-sounding review process.
Those behind the original case weren’t in favor of the idea of waiting for the federal agencies at issue to go through a potentially lengthy regulatory process before the Trump-era moves were actually set aside. “The Court spoke for species desperately in need of comprehensive federal protections without compromise. Threatened and endangered species do not have the luxury of waiting under rules that do not protect them,” Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles said. Tigar cited the fact that federal agencies already indicated their intention to eventually make significant changes to the relevant policies in laying out his decision to go ahead and void the Trump-era moves. In revealing their intentions, agencies “put the public on notice that the regulations’ existence in their current form is unlikely,” as the judge noted. At this point, there’s a consistent record of key Trump admin initiatives getting set aside in court.
As reported on this site, a panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down Trump-era rules regarding the handling of emissions from power plants on January 19 of last year. The EPA “may not shirk its responsibility by imagining new limitations that the plain language of the statute does not clearly require,” that appeals panel concluded. Trump’s team apparently claimed a piece of federal law called the Clean Air Act left the EPA only able to impose regulations on power plants “that can be put into operation at a building, structure, facility or installation” rather than on a more expansive scale. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court subsequently took a contrasting approach in a more recent ruling.