EPA Sued for Not Protecting Endangered Species During COVID-19

Conservation advocacy groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc., and Riverkeeper, Inc. filed a complaint against the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its administrator Andrew Wheeler on Tuesday in the Southern District of New York, asking for declaratory and injunctive relief for damages done to endangered species because of the agency’s non-enforcement policy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The complaint challenges the failure of the defendants to complete “mandatory duties” related to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Administrative Procedure Act. The plaintiffs claimed that suspending monitoring and reporting requirements created a significant risk to already endangered species and that the agency is breaching its duties.

“Conservation Groups understand that COVID-19 presents unique challenges and that certain measures may be necessary to protect individuals involved in implementing programs under EPA’s jurisdiction. However, this does not mean that EPA may simply ignore its vitally important, and legally required, ESA Section 7 duties and disregard potential impacts on imperiled species and their critical habitats,” the plaintiffs said.

The EPA is reportedly endangering wildlife because it is allowing “unchecked pollution” to enter habitats. The groups further claimed that the EPA should have formally consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service before issuing the policy.

The plaintiffs asked for the court to rule that the EPA is breaching its duties and to require them to “complete formal consultation” regarding the policy’s impacts on certain species. They specifically mentioned the risk from increased pollution to the Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon in the Delaware and Connecticut Rivers, which the plaintiffs have put significant effort to protect in the past. 7

The EPA received allegations in a lawsuit filed by nine states in May, claiming that the non-enforcement policy was harmful. They alleged that the non-enforcement policies were not practical and would result in an increase of pollution and a decrease in compliance. The EPA later released a memo stating that the non-enforcement policies would end on August 31, however, a later memo said the EPA will work with states and agencies to adjust inspection commitments through the end of the fiscal year.