Advocates sue to block Trump administration changes to endangered species rules

PHOTO: An American bald eagle carries away dinner at a prime fishing ground below Conowingo Dam in Harford County, Md., Nov. 29, 2012.PlayThe Washington Post/Getty Images, FILE
WATCH Trump weakens rules that protect endangered species

A coalition of advocacy groups filed a lawsuit seeking to block the new rules on endangered species that the Trump administration announced last week.

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The groups argue that the rules didn't properly consider the harm that could come from the changes if more species go without protections and changed requirements that federal agencies consider the harm to endangered species or protected habitat in their decisions.

"In the midst of an unprecedented extinction crisis, the Trump administration is eviscerating our most effective wildlife protection law," Rebecca Riley, legal director of the nature program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. "These regulatory changes will place vulnerable species in immediate danger -- all to line the pockets of industry. We are counting on the courts to step in before it's too late."

The Interior Department, which oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that carries out most endangered species decisions, called the lawsuit a political move and said they plan to fight it.

"It is unsurprising that those who repeatedly seek to weaponize the Endangered Species Act -- instead of use it as a means to recover imperiled species -- would choose to sue. We will see them in court, and we will be steadfast in our implementation of this important act with the unchanging goal of conserving and recovering species," Interior Department spokesman Nick Goodwin said in a statement.

The newly finalized rules would change the requirements for how the government decides to add or remove species from the list of endangered animals that are regulated by the government, including limiting how much habitat can be protected. The changes would separate plans for protecting any new species listed as threatened instead of blanket policies that apply to all.

PHOTO: An American bald eagle carries away dinner at a prime fishing ground below Conowingo Dam in Harford County, Md., Nov. 29, 2012. The Washington Post/Getty Images, FILE
An American bald eagle carries away dinner at a prime fishing ground below Conowingo Dam in Harford County, Md., Nov. 29, 2012.

The Trump administration and Republicans say the changes in the rule will help remove species from the list when their population has recovered and make the rules more clear for developers and other groups that are impacted when land is protected to preserve habitat for threatened or endangered species.

Advocates say the changes will make it harder to get protections for threatened species and could leave them vulnerable until specific plans for each species are approved.

The coalition of advocates represented by the environmental law firm Earthjustice includes NRDC, the Sierra Club and animal advocacy groups like the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife. The group says they plan to file additional challenges to other specific parts of the rules, including a provision that allows agencies to compile economic information on decisions about endangered species.