WASHINGTON— A federal district court Monday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the historic 2011 settlement agreement between the Center for Biological Diversity and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requiring the agency to decide whether to protect 757 imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act. All 757 species had been languishing in bureaucratic limbo without a decision on their fate — many of them for more than two decades. The agreement requires that all receive decisions between 2011 and 2018. So far 138 species have been protected or formally proposed for protection. The National Association of Home Builders and other industry groups filed suit to overturn the agreement, arguing that they would be harmed if the Fish and Wildlife Service completed its legally required scientific review of the species’ status. In Monday’s ruling, however, federal Judge Emmet G. Sullivan concluded that fear of the results of a required decision-making process is not a legal basis to stop the process.
“The Endangered Species Act provides ample opportunity for the Home Builders and any other citizen, state or group to participate, comment and even challenge the result of protection decisions,” said Noah Greenwald, director of the Center’s Endangered Species program. “What they can’t do is trample democracy by insisting that the government make no decision at all.”
Today’s ruling — the fourth in a row concluding that anti-environmental groups have no basis for challenging the precedent-setting legal agreement — comes just days after the state of Oklahoma and an oil and gas industry lobby group filed a similar lawsuit.
“The state of Oklahoma should withdraw its hopeless, copycat lawsuit and stop wasting taxpayer money on frivolous grandstanding,” said Greenwald. “The people of Oklahoma deserve leadership and respect for law from their politicians, not expensive, futile gestures to stop legally required scientific reviews.”
The Center’s 2011 species agreement has so far resulted in 108 Endangered Species Act listings, 30 listing proposals, 429 initial positive decisions and about 6 million acres of protected wildlife habitat.
In legal terms, Judge Sullivan ruled that the Home Builders do not have “standing” to challenge the agreement because it does not require that species be protected, only that the long-delayed process of deciding their fate be concluded. The process does not harm the Home Builders in any way. Being unable to demonstrate “harm,” the Home Builders lack the legally required “standing” to bring a lawsuit.