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A U.S. judge in Oakland on Monday refused to dismiss a lawsuit in which California and 18 other states claim two federal agencies’ revised regulations to implement the U.S. Endangered Species Act would weaken the law and are illegal.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar rejected the Interior and Commerce departments’ arguments that the suit should be dismissed because the states lacked standing to sue and they couldn’t show any harm since the regulations issued last year have not yet been applied.

Tigar wrote that the states are home to hundreds of endangered and threatened species and said the lawsuit filed in September had adequately detailed alleged harm to natural resources.

Tigar wrote:

“An enhanced risk of biodiversity loss and degradation of fish and wildlife natural resources clearly follows from the services’ alleged weakening of ESA safeguards designed to conserve hundreds of endangered and threatened species within state plaintiffs’ territories.”

The defendants in the case are Interior Secretary David Bernhardt; the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

The next hearing is a case management conference in Tigar’s court on June 30.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said:

“We commend the court for moving this challenge onward and look forward to continuing our strong fight against these unlawful rules.”

Sea Otter
Mike Baird/Flickr A sea otter and her pup help fight climate change among the kelp in Morro Bay near Monterey. (Mike Baird/Flickr)

Becerra added:

“When a species goes extinct, there’s no turning back the clock.”

California has more than 300 species – more than any other state – listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, including the southern sea otter, the desert tortoise, the marbled murrelet and two types of Chinook salmon, according to the lawsuit.

In announcing the revised regulations in August, Bernhardt and Ross said the changes were “designed to increase transparency and effectiveness and bring the administration of the act into the 21st century.”

The lawsuit contends the revised regulations are not authorized by the law and were developed in violation of the requirements of the U.S. Administrative Procedure Act. It alleges the regulations illegally inject economic considerations into listing decisions and restrict the designation of critical habitat for protected species.

In a second ruling Monday, Tigar allowed 17 other states, including Arizona and Alaska, to become official parties in the case on the side of the government to defend the regulations.

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