NJ Joins Court Fight to Stop Trump Administration from Weakening Wildlife Protections

Tom Johnson | September 26, 2019 | Energy & Environment
New rules would make it easier for regulators to remove a species from the endangered list and lessen protections for threatened wildlife

Credit: Pixabay
At one time, New Jersey was down to one nesting pair of bald eagles. Today, it has more than 150 nesting pairs.
For the second time in a week, New Jersey is joining with other states to challenge the Trump administration’s latest rollback of environmental protections — this time in a lawsuit challenging new rules concerning the protection of threatened and endangered species.

In this instance, the states, in an action filed in the U.S. District Court in California, are contesting new rules adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service that make it easier for regulators to remove a species from the endangered list and weaken protections for threatened wildlife.

In New Jersey, at least 14 threatened and endangered species occur in the state, including the piping plover, red knot and bog turtle, designated this year as the official state reptile. The state also expends considerable resources protecting habitat, including for the federally-listed red knot, a shorebird that — on its way to annual nesting grounds in the Arctic — stops over in the Cape May peninsula every spring to feed on horseshoe crab eggs. At one time, New Jersey had only one nesting pair of bald eagles. Today, it has more than 150 nesting pairs.

The changes, critics said, allow officials to consider economic factors — and disallow the effects of climate change — when making key decisions about whether and how to protect a species.

“The Endangered Species Act is quite clear about the need to protect threatened and endangered wildlife, but the administration’s rules undermine the promise at every turn, opening the door to mining and drilling in long protected areas,’’ said state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

Targeting the Endangered Species Act

The act, long a target of conservatives and the Western U.S., has been credited with saving numerous species, including the bald eagle, which has made impressive comebacks even in an urban state like New Jersey, and the grizzly bear and California condor.

With respect to the ESA, the lawsuit highlights that the Supreme Court has already held that the statute ensures science — rather than costs considerations — will drive decision-making,’’ the attorney general said.

The lawsuit joins another initiated by Earth Justice on behalf of a range of environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Natural Parks Conservation Association, and Humane Society of America.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the new rules close the door on public input. “It is especially important for New Jersey because we use the ESA as a critical tool to protect threatened and endangered habitats and prevent developments from destroying our environment.’’

Last week, the attorney general joined a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s repeal of a waiver that allowed California to implement more stringent auto emission standards than the federal government.