SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the California Natural Resources Agency, and the California Environmental Protection Agency today filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration for failing to protect endangered fish species from federal water export operations.
The lawsuit asserts that biological opinions prepared by federal agencies under the Endangered Species Act to direct water project operations lack safeguards for protected species and their habitat in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River watersheds, including the Bay-Delta. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the lawsuit requests that the court declare the Trump Administration’s adoption of the biological opinions unlawful.
“As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not destroy it,” said Attorney General Becerra. “California won’t silently spectate as the Trump Administration adopts scientifically-challenged biological opinions that push species to extinction and harm our natural resources and waterways.”
“We are challenging the federal biological opinions, which do not currently govern water project operation in the Delta, to protect highly imperiled fish species close to extinction,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “Our goal continues to be to realize enforceable voluntary agreements that provide the best immediate protection for species, reliable and safe drinking water, and dependable water sources for our farmers for economic prosperity. This is the best path forward to sustain our communities, our environment and our economy.”
The lawsuit challenges the actions of the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency which adopted the biological opinions. The lawsuit also challenges the biological decisions issued in October 2019 by the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which lack sufficient protections for endangered and threatened fish.
The lawsuit argues the agencies’ biological opinions and the Bureau’s decision violate the law because the Trump Administration:
- Fails to provide actual analysis of whether the effects of its action applied to current conditions would tip a species toward extinction;
- Improperly relies on uncertain plans to mitigate the harms of project operations;
- Ignores the requirement that a biological opinion must consider not only the continued survival of listed species, but also their recovery;
- Neglects to consider the material decline of the smelt (fish), and provides a limited analysis of climate change impacts;
- Disregards the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to provide the public with a meaningful opportunity to comment on relevant information about the proposed action and potential impacts and failing to adequately respond to public input; and
- Puts at risk Delta smelt, Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, and other fish species. Previous biological opinions by the agencies addressed the risk posed to the listed species’ continued existence by Central Valley Project operations and required measures to limit impacts.
The Bureau of Reclamation adopted new biological opinions that do not adequately protect species and highly sensitive and critical habitat throughout California. This lack of adequate protection would cause long-term and irrevocable damage to protected species in California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers.
The lawsuit asserts the Trump Administration’s actions violate the Administrative Procedure Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. In addition to today’s lawsuit, Attorney General Becerra, the California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Natural Resources Agency sent a 60-day Notice Letter to the Bureau that puts the Trump Administration on notice of California’s intent to file additional claims alleging that the Bureau’s decision to approve the biological opinions violates the federal Endangered Species Act.
Attorney General Becerra has unwaveringly defended California’s environment and protected species. On September 25, 2019, Attorney General Becerra led a coalition of 18 attorneys general and the City of New York to file a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s rollback of the Endangered Species Act. Just over a year earlier, Attorney General Becerra, leading a coalition of seven attorneys general, filed a lawsuit challenging the Administration’s decision to roll back protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and endanger millions of migratory birds including bald eagles. In 2019, Attorney General Becerra successfully blocked Westlands Water District from taking unlawful action to raise the Shasta Dam, which would have irreparably damaged the McCloud River and its wild trout fishery and inundated sacred lands of the Winnemem Wintu tribe.
A copy of the lawsuit is available here.