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Why humpback whales and condors are at the center of California’s latest lawsuit against Trump

Standing in front of wetlands at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced on Wednesday a lawsuit to challenge the federal government’s move to roll back regulations that protect threatened animals and wildlife under the Endangered Species Act.

“Insects, animals, birds are disappearing,” Becerra said during a Monday press conference. “The reason so many species on this planet are endangered is because humankind has not taken a look at the science, or the data, that we are unbalancing that ecosystem.”

The lawsuit, California’s 62nd against President Donald Trump’s administration, was launched to challenge the U.S. Department of the Interior’s proposed rule announced in August that would deconstruct key elements of the law.

California is among 18 states and the City of New York in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The proposed rule would roll back protections for endangered species by making it easier to remove them from the list. It also raises the qualifications for uninhabited land to be deemed a “critical habitat.”

In announcing the rule, the Trump administration said it was attempting to make enforcing the Endangered Species Act more “clear, consistent and efficient.”

In the lawsuit, the attorneys general argued the administration’s move is “arbitrary and capricious” and violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

There are more than 300 endangered or threatened species in the state, according to the California Department of Justice, in addition to “tens of millions of acres of federal public lands.”

The lawsuit claims iconic national and state species that include bald eagles, California condors, grizzly bears and humpback whales would be threatened by the relaxed provisions.

The lawsuit also alleges the rule authorizes economic consideration in determining whether a habitat or species is threatened by climate change and therefore needs protection. That would pave way for detrimental development, which could disrupt important ecosystems and challenge the area’s biodiversity, Becerra said.

“What I hear is humankind, essentially, led to the disappearance of some species,” Becerrra argued. “You don’t see butterflies here anymore so let’s go ahead and develop. Well they used to be here. Let’s take a step back. What the heck did we do to stop them from being here?”

“The science doesn’t say ‘hey, they disappeared so there’s no problem.’ The science says ‘hey they’re not here, and that’s a problem.’”

The lawsuit comes amid heightened tensions between California and the White House. Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Becerra announced a lawsuit to challenge Trump’s effort to revoke the state’s own carbon emission rules. In response, the federal Environmental Protection Agency threatened to withhold the state’s highway funds.

California has sued the administration more than two dozen times for climate-related policy.

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Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.
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