Federal judge tosses out Trump-era relaxed rules on Endangered Species Act, restores old stricter regulations

A hallmark of former President Donald Trump’s tenure was his efforts to roll back or weaken various environmental regulations that, in the view of many Republicans, onerously burdened and unnecessarily hindered economic development and domestic energy production.

That included changes made in 2019 to the Endangered Species Act, but a federal judge in California just vacated those regulatory changes and restored the old rules in response to a major lawsuit filed by environmentalist groups, the Washington Examiner reported.

Old regulations restored

At issue here were five substantial changes to regulations within the Endangered Species Act, including one that reduced the level of federal protection for species designated as “threatened” but not “endangered,” and also allowed for economic considerations to be a factor in making determinations about the level of threat a particular species may face.

A coalition of conservation and environmentalist groups, joined by some Democratic-led states, filed a lawsuit to challenge those rule changes in 2019, and U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar of Northern California agreed with those groups on Tuesday and ordered the Trump-era regulations to be immediately vacated.

That move served to restore the prior status quo of the Endangered Species Act and allowed for two federal agencies — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service — to continue the lengthy process of formal reviews and cancelation of the Trump-era rules without the added pressure from the lawsuit or activist groups.

Not waiting for lengthy review process to be completed

The Los Angeles Times reported that the Fish and Wildlife Service announced its intention to reinstate the so-called “blanket rule” that had been rolled back under Trump and applies the same level of federal protections to all species designated as endangered or threatened.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Interior Department said that a review of the judge’s decision was underway. That review will likely dovetail with other reviews ordered by President Joe Biden of other Trump-era rules that he intends to change at some point — a process that can take months or even years to complete.

Ryan Shannon, an attorney for one of the environmentalist groups involved in the lawsuit, the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Times that he was “incredibly relieved” that the California judge had tossed aside the “terrible” regulations put in place under Trump.

The lawyer added, “I hope the Biden administration takes this opportunity to strengthen this crucial law, rather than weaken it, in the face of the ongoing extinction crisis.”

Court win cheered by environmentalist groups

Representing the coalition of interest groups and states was an environmental activist law firm known as EarthJustice, and it celebrated the judge’s ruling as a “victory” for not just themselves but also “wildlife protection and conservation.”

That coalition had argued that “The Trump rules threatened to upend decades of clarity and protections for hundreds of species that have benefited from the established policy,” but heralded the fact that those protections had now been restored by the federal court.

“The Court spoke for species desperately in need of comprehensive federal protections without compromise,” Kristen Boyles, an attorney for EarthJustice, said in a statement. “Threatened and endangered species do not have the luxury of waiting under rules that do not protect them.”

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