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Trade groups cheer new endangered species rules; states vow to sue

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, as well as some environmental groups, have vowed to challenge the Trump administration's sweeping changes to Endangered Species Act protections.

The parties intend to argue to the courts that the rulemakings issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service on Aug. 12 impermissibly gut one of the country's most successful environmental laws and effectively block the administration from considering longer-term risks such as climate change.

"As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet's biodiversity, not to destroy it," Becerra said in a statement.

But trade groups representing the oil and gas industry and electric cooperatives praised the rulemakings and echoed statements by federal agencies that the revisions will ensure resources are focused on the most affected plants and animals while also speeding up decision-making on key infrastructure projects, including pipelines and electric transmission lines. Would-be developers often try to avoid areas where species are listed or are likely to be listed because the law requires them to mitigate any potential impacts of the project on those species, which can be time-consuming and costly.

The new rules will "improve the implementation of the Endangered Species Act through the reduction of duplicative and unnecessary regulations that ultimately bog down conservation efforts," oil and gas trade group API said in a statement.

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Jim Matheson, likewise, called the rulemakings an "important step toward modernizing endangered species protection, including making permitting for infrastructure more efficient while protecting our nation's threatened and endangered species."

But the private sector is not the only one that has encountered difficulties with the Endangered Species Act, or ESA. Federal agencies themselves have had trouble over the years keeping up with the requirements of the ESA to process listing and delisting of endangered or threatened species within specific time frames.

The ESA is also a frequent target of proposed legislation from Republican lawmakers aimed at limiting the law's impact on species in their districts.

Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, in 2018 introduced draft ESA legislation aimed at removing barriers to oil and gas development. Barrasso, R-Wyo., in an Aug. 12 statement said "the Trump administration is taking important steps to make the Endangered Species Act work better for people and wildlife," but the lawmaker contended that Congress needs to make further reforms to the law.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., in a press call said he intends to try to get lawmakers to overturn the changes, including through the Congressional Review Act, which gives lawmakers 60 days to revoke an agency rulemaking. But Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark on the same call later acknowledged that with Republicans in control of the Senate, the Legislature is unlikely to act any time soon.

"We are scrambling to find" Republican allies who will be needed to "battle this back," Clark said of the ESA rulemakings. Clark recalled a time when the ESA was supported on both sides of the aisle. But she acknowledged those days have passed.

"The bipartisan nature of this might be a challenge," Clark said. Defenders is among the environmental groups that have vowed to sue the Trump administration over the ESA reforms.