Next up for Nessel: Taking on Trump over Endangered Species Act rollback

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The President Trump administration’s rules weakening the 1973 Endangered Species Act — which was written by the late Michigan U.S. Rep. John Dingell — is being challenged by a coalition of state attorneys general, including Michigan.

Attorney General Dana Nessel in Flint, July 26, 2019 | Andrew Roth

In August, the U.S. Interior and Commerce departments announced final rule changes, including mandating that regulators must look at economic factors when determining whether a species should be classified as endangered. Environmentalists protested that allows officials to ignore the impact of climate change.

Nessel announced this week that 18 attorneys general and the city of New York have filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, arguing that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision to finalize three rules that undermine the key requirements and purpose of the Endangered Species Act is unlawful.

“We’re going to try to undo what the president is proposing to do with the Endangered Species Act,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a press conference.

Trump’s Endangered Species Act overhaul worries Michigan conservationists

The Michigan attorney general’s office noted that 26 Michigan endangered species and their habitats could be harmed, including Kirtland’s warbler, Karner blue butterfly, Piping plover and gray wolf. The list of threatened or endangered species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges as “believed or known” to call Michigan home can be found here.

Other species across the country that could be impacted include the Monarch butterfly, moose, grizzly bears, American wolverine, Pacific walrus and Canadian lynx.

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“By finalizing these rules, the federal government is not prioritizing the enhancement, restoration, or conservation of Michigan’s wildlife resources,” said Nessel. “According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan is a suitable home for 26 animal and plant species currently on their list as threatened or endangered. We must preserve these habitats to ensure that if they are not already here, there is a safe haven waiting for them. There is no way we can sit by while this administration is actively threatening the very existence of these species.”

David Bernhardt, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be Interior Secretary, testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing on March 28, 2019 in Washington, DC. | Zach Gibson/Getty Images

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in August that the changes were “designed to increase transparency and effectiveness.”

“The revisions finalized with this rule-making fit squarely within the president’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross added at the time. “These changes were subject to a robust, transparent public process, during which we received significant public input that helped us finalize these rules.”

In their lawsuit, the attorneys general challenges the rules as “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedure Act; unauthorized under the Endangered Species Act; and unlawful under the National Environmental Policy Act. Of specific concern are the actions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to:

  • Add economic considerations to the Endangered Species Act’s science-driven and species focused analyses
  • Restrict the circumstances under which species can be listed as threatened
  • Expand the Act’s narrow exemptions for designating critical habitats and limit the circumstances under which a habitat would be designated, especially where climate change poses a threat
  • Reduce consultation and analyses required before federal agency action
  • Drastically depart from the longstanding, conservation-based agency policy and practice of providing the same level of protection to threatened species afforded to endangered species, which is necessary to prevent a species from becoming endangered
  • Push the responsibility for protecting endangered species and habitats onto the state, detracting from the states’ efforts to carry out their own programs and imposing significant costs
  • Exclude analysis of and public input on the rules’ significant environmental impacts

Nessel joined AGs from California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

This isn’t the only attempt to fight the new Trump administration rules on endangered species. A coalition of environmental groups has filed a separate lawsuit, including: Earthjustice for the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians and the Humane Society of the United States.

There also are efforts in Congress to fight the law’s rollback, led by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), who was married to John Dingell and succeeded him in the U.S. House in 2015.

Debbie Dingell, along with U.S. Natural Resources Chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), this month introduced the Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Conversation Act of 2019. This legislation would repeal all Trump administration changes to the Endangered Species Act.

“The Endangered Species Act is among the most effective ever passed. For more than 40 years, we have come together in bipartisan fashion to protect species critical to maintaining the balance of our wildlife,” said Dingell in a statement. “The Administration’s efforts to weaken Endangered Species protections are taking us in the wrong direction.”

Earlier this year, Dingell reintroduced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), which would dedicate roughly $1.4 billion to the Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program for “proactive, voluntary efforts led by the states, territories and tribal nations to prevent vulnerable wildlife from becoming endangered.”

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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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