WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice today of its intent to sue President Donald Trump for his recent executive order directing all federal agencies to exploit the Endangered Species Act’s emergency provisions to rubber-stamp the approval of fossil fuel pipelines, oil and gas drilling and other routine infrastructure projects.
The unprecedented legal action would mark the first time Trump has been sued for violating the Endangered Species Act, under which it’s illegal for any person to solicit — that is, cause another person to commit — an act that harms protected wildlife or plants.
Trump’s June 4 order directed all federal agencies to waive compliance with environmental laws to expedite infrastructure and other projects, including pipelines like Keystone XL and other fossil fuel infrastructure. The order requires every agency to claim emergency authority to approve as many infrastructure projects as possible within 30 days, regardless of potential harm to people or the environment.
“Trump’s authoritarianism seems to reach deranged new levels every week,” said Kierán Suckling, the Center’s executive director. “The president’s not above the law. Inciting federal agencies to violate the Endangered Species Act is part of a pattern he’s displayed throughout his presidency. He’s encouraging officials to ignore the rules and obey his whims.”
Federal agencies — including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Services, which jointly administer the Endangered Species Act — are given limited emergency powers to respond quickly to specific events, such as natural disasters.
An emergency project can be approved rapidly under the Act, such as when the Federal Emergency Management Agency requested permission in March to quickly build field hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients. But it is illegal to force all federal agencies to rush through projects that have no connection to the underlying emergency.
“Everyone sees through Trump’s ploy. There’s quite a difference between rebuilding after an earthquake and claiming we need to build an oil pipeline to fight the coronavirus,” said Suckling. “This dangerous executive order is an open-ended invitation for abuse, and if he doesn’t revoke it, we’ll take him to court.”