OKLAHOMA CITY (Legal Newsline) - Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed a lawsuit on Monday against the federal government alleging it engaged in sue-and-settle tactics when it settled with a national environmental group over endangered species classification.
The U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allegedly used such tactics when settling a lawsuit over the listing status of 251 animal species, including the lesser prairie chicken.
"Increasingly, federal agencies are colluding with like-minded special interest groups by using 'sue and settle' tactics to reach 'friendly settlements' of lawsuits filed by the interest groups," Pruitt said. "These settlements, which often impose tougher regulations and shorter timelines than those imposed by Congress, are having a crippling effect on the U.S. economy. Furthermore, because these settlements are taking place without public input, attorneys general are unable to represent the respective interests of their states, businesses, and citizens."
In 2010, Wild Earth Guardians sued the FWS alleging the agency failed to meet deadlines in determining the listing status of 251 species, including the lesser prairie chicken. The FWS entered a consent decree agreeing to decide the listing status of the 251 species by Sept. 30, 2015.
The FWS agreed to determine whether to grant threatened status to the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act by March 31. A threatened listing would restrict land use in the bird's five-state habitat, which includes Oklahoma.
TheSstate of Oklahoma, other states and private companies spent $26 million to develop a voluntary and comprehensive plan to protect the lesser prairie chicken.
"Oklahoma has spent millions to develop a conservation plan that offers adequate protections for the lesser prairie chicken, yet those efforts could be undone without input from the state because of a consent decree between the FWS and a national environmental group," Pruitt said.
"Oklahoma has indicated its willingness to protect the lesser prairie chicken but it seems increasingly clear this issue isn't about sound science or saving endangered species. Using the courts to impose regulations undermines the rule of law."
Pruitt's lawsuit alleges the FWS violated the Endangered Species Act by agreeing to not consider the statutorily-created warranted but precluded category when determining the status of the candidate species. The FWS also allegedly violated the law by agreeing to a truncated timeline in the decision-making process and sidestepping the rule making process.