Energy & Environment

How lawsuits target endangered species laws

How lawsuits target endangered species laws

The formal process to get a plant or animal listed as an endangered species has become too bureaucratic for many environmental groups that are instead taking the government to court in the hopes of convincing a judge to force the listing.

Researchers at Southern Utah University and Utah State University conducted a study published in March that included examples of this litigious strategy and its impact on the economy.

A pest to many ranchers in the west, the Gunnison Prairie Dog is part of a court settlement last year with numerous environmental groups. The federal government must soon make a final determination on whether the critter will be listed, although critics say there is little evidence it is actually in danger of extinction.

When environmentalists threatened to sue the government to force the listing of the sand dune lizard in Texas, oil and gas companies voluntarily entered into conservation agreements this year with private landowners to avoid onerous government restrictions they said would cripple the economy.

“As far as I am concerned, it is Godzilla,” said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Paterson. “It’s the biggest threat facing the oil business in memory.”

It’s not just conventional energy development that faces threats from endangered species. Alternative energy projects, including wind farms, also are threatened by potential listings.

“Horizon Wind Energy proposed a 300-megawatt-capacity wind farm in an area of Wyoming considered sage grouse habitat,” the report said. “But this proposal was met with opposition from (WildEarth Guardians), the American Bird Conservancy, and other environmental groups, forcing Horizon Wind Energy to indefinitely suspend its plans for the wind farm.”