Connecticut and 16 other states are challenging the Trump administration over its rollback of the federal Endangered Species Act.
The new rules took effect this week and remove blanket protections for animals newly listed as threatened. The changes also make it easier for creatures to be removed from the protected list, and, for the first time, allow officials to consider how much it would cost to save a species.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, a Democrat, said the rollbacks violate “the language and purpose” of the ESA. And members of the 17-state coalition said in their lawsuit filed Wednesday that the rollbacks wrongly inject economic interests into what should be a purely science-driven process.
Tong spoke Thursday backed by a cadre of environmental activists on the banks of the Connecticut River.
“Sometimes people say … those are national issues, we should be focused on local issues,” Tong said. “These are local issues. This water is a local issue. The Connecticut River is a local issue. The bald eagle is a local issue,” Tong said.
The bald eagle is no longer an endangered species, but it was one of the first animals to receive federal protection under a precursor to the Endangered Species Act in 1967.
The Endangered Species Act was officially signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1973. Since then, it’s been credited with helping to prevent the extinction of more than 200 species, including bald eagles, grizzly bears, and humpback whales.
Over the years, critics complained the Endangered Species Act dampened economic activity such as logging and mining by infringing on local property rights. The Trump administration and congressional Republicans have said the new rules will improve the law's enforcement.
“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 U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, in a news release last month.
In the lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco, Tong and other members of the coalition disagree, arguing economic considerations should not be injected into the Endangered Species Act’s “science-driven, species focused analyses.”
Other New England states challenging the ESA rollback include Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island. New York City and the District of Columbia are also listed as plaintiffs.
This post contains reporting from the Associated Press.