Sue-and-Settle

Quick Facts

  • WildEarth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity are responsible for 72% of the listing petitions covering 88% of the species since the settlement agreements.
  • Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians are plaintiffs on 53% of the lawsuits challenging listing decisions since the settlement agreements.
  • The post-settlement petition rate is twice the rate prior to 2007.

Environmental Groups Keep Suing Despite Vast ESA Settlement Agreements

Since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) passed in 1973, only 2% of listed species have been successfully recovered, due in part to abuse of the statute. Environmental groups overload the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) with listing petitions and then sue FWS for missing deadlines, which diverts resources away from actual species recovery and into litigation and bureaucratic process.

In 2011, two serial litigants, WildEarth Guardians (WEG) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) reached settlement agreements with the Department of the Interior (DOI) on a combined 878 species. DOI’s justification for entering into the closed-door settlement agreement that excluded the public, elected officials, states, localities, and other stakeholders was to limit future listing petitions and litigation. If so, the result should have been a decline in petitions and lawsuits, but the reality is the opposite. 

Using legal and FWS databases, Western Energy Alliance conducted an analysis of petitions and lawsuits filed since the huge settlements were reached in 2011 and discovered that:

  • 53 petitions have been filed with FWS requesting listing or uplisting (from threatened to endangered) on 129 species.  WEG and CBD are responsible for 38 (72%) of the petitions covering 113 (88%) of the species.  
  • Requests for species listings have climbed to an average of 31 per year, up from 20 prior to 2007. FWS is still struggling to deal with the dramatic increase in species petitions from 2007 to 2010, with 695 species in 2007, 56 in 2008, and 63 in 2009. In 2010, FWS received a single petition from CBD to list 404 species. 
  • With complete disregard for the spirit of the agreements, CBD delivered a large 53-species petition to FWS less than a year after the settlements were approved, prompting FWS Assistant Director for Endangered Species Gary Frazer to state, “We’re disappointed that they filed another large, multi-species petition.” 
  • 71 different plaintiffs have filed 43 lawsuits challenging FWS decisions on 107 different species. It’s not surprising that more plaintiffs are resorting to legal action, since the settlements shut out policymakers and other stakeholders that are now left with few options. Yet despite being handed policy privileges by FWS through closed-door negotiations, WEG and CBD remain the most prolific litigants, with 23 lawsuits (53%) involving 45 species (42%).
  • 50 of those 107 species that are subjects of new lawsuits were already addressed in the settlement agreements of 2011, with CBD and WEG responsible for the lawsuits on 34 (68%) of those species. These radical environmental groups will not be satisfied unless all of their petitions result in endangered listings, whether or not such determinations are warranted. 

Sue the government, get favorable settlement agreements, shut out the public, yet keep suing if 100% of your demands aren’t met. Sue-and-settle: a good deal for environmental activists, a bad deal for the American taxpayer, jobs, the economy and endangered species.