The state of Oklahoma and the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance filed a lawsuit Monday, accusing the federal government of conspiring with environmental groups to pass endangered species regulations behind closed doors.
The lawsuit is critical of how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service circumvented the public rule-making process by entering private settlements with “special interest litigants.” It was filed Monday in federal court in Tulsa.
“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,” Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in a news release. “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.”
Pruitt cites a 2010 lawsuit by Wild Earth Guardians, which alleged the Fish and Wildlife Service did not meet deadlines in determining the listing of 251 species.
That lawsuit resulted in a consent decree that accelerated the determination process of those species, including the lesser prairie chicken.
Oklahoma land use at risk
The Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to decide by March 31 whether the lesser prairie chicken should be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
Such a determination would restrict land use in Oklahoma and four other states that already have spent $26 million to develop a voluntary conservation plan, 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,” Pruitt said. “Using the courts to impose regulations undermines the rule of law.”
The state’s lawsuit also cites endangered species consideration being given to the rabbitsfoot mussel, Sprague’s pipit and Arkansas darter.
The Fish and Wildlife Service in Tulsa could not be reached for comment late Monday afternoon.
State energy group joins case
The Domestic Energy Producers Alliance — an Oklahoma-based group of independent producers, service companies and royalty owners — contends the secret settlements cited in the lawsuit are being used to thwart oil and natural gas development and destroy private property rights.
“It is important that our federal government and its agencies follow the law, be transparent and afford all parties the protections of due process and participation guaranteed by the United States Constitution,” President Mike McDonald said.