Environmental groups have launched nearly 100 legal suits against President Donald Trump’s administration since he took office in 2016—and they’ve racked up a few wins.
The Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit that works to protect endangered species, often through litigation, has been keeping track of all of the suits that it has filed along with partner organizations such as EarthJustice and the Humane Society of the United States. So far, according to the organization, it’s up to 93.
“This is a high number,” said John Buse, a senior counsel and the legal director at the Center, over the phone. “We’ve been described as litigious by our critics. We’re aware of the number of suits we bring and we have filed suits against every previous administration in good numbers, but this is a considerable step up.”
The current administration is one of the most anti-science, anti-environment administrations this country has ever seen, and it has been relentless in pushing for regulations that enable Big Energy to profit while the environment suffers. It’s not surprising, then, that groups whose main resources are dedicated to filing lawsuits to defend the environment are now stepping up their efforts. .
About one in five of the 93 suits are Freedom of Information Act requests to gain access to records that should be public but have not been made available, Buse said. The Trump administration has been criticized for being particularly opaque, especially when it comes to environmental issues. In 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) saw a record number of transparency lawsuits filed against it.
But there are also plenty of suits that are substantial challenges to major policy decisions, such as a suite of lawsuits filed in response to Trump’s decision to dramatically slash the size of two national monuments, which provide protected habitat for multiple species.
“There was no doubt that we were going to challenge that,” Buse said. “It was a really easy decision.”
But other cases were not so obvious as targets for litigation. In July, for example, several environmental groups including the Center sued the EPA after it created a loophole for diesel truck manufacturers to put more greenhouse-gas-creating trucks on the road than existing rules allow. Just a few days after this lawsuit was launched, the EPA withdrew that new decision.
They also had a win in September, when a federal judge overturned a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to remove the grizzly bear from the endangered species list. The judge ruled FWS acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it chose to delist the bears. This was a move that was broadly criticized and that conservationists said put the long-term future of grizzlies in the US at significant risk.
Not all the lawsuits have been successful, of course. In California, the Center for Biological Diversity and others filed suit in an attempt to fight back against Trump’s plans for a border wall, which would threaten the recovery of many species including the US jaguar. But this suit was dismissed by a San Diego judge in February. The groups have appealed that decision and more legal action is pending at the federal level.
Buse said the border wall is a particularly important topic that they don’t plan to back down on, not only for the environmental impacts, but also as a way to flex against the administration itself.
“It’s really going to be important because it also impacts public opinion, and may influence voters at the polls today and perhaps in 2020,” Buse told me. “There are few other ways to stop the administration’s apparently hellbent pursuit to construct this border wall, and the wall is at the heart of Trump’s administration.”