For years, environmentalists have usurped individual private property rights and thwarted economic development. Now, thanks to Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, it appears that the job creators may have finally learned something from the extreme tactics of groups, like the Wild Earth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity, which for years have been using the courts to their advantage by filing lawsuits against the federal government.
On March 17, on behalf of the state of Oklahoma and the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, Pruitt filed a lawsuit against the federal government, specifically the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The lawsuit alleges the "FWS engaged in 'sue and settle' tactics when the agency agreed to settle a lawsuit with a national environmental group over the (Endangered Species Act) listing status of several animal species, including the Lesser Prairie Chicken."
The lesser prairie chicken is especially important, as the Fish and Wildlife Service is required — based on the conditions set forth in the settlement of a 2010 lawsuit — to make a determination, explicitly, on the bird by Monday. A "threatened" listing would restrict the land use in the bird's 40-million-acre, five-state habitat: Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, and Kansas. The affected area includes private, state, and federal lands — lands rich in energy resources, ranch and farm land — plus, municipal infrastructure, such as water pipelines and electric transmission.
Understanding the negative impact a listing would have, industry, states, and the Fish and Wildlife Service have collaborated to develop a historic range-wide plan to demonstrate that the bird and its prairie habitat can be protected without needing to list it. The plan includes habitat management goals and conservation practices to be applied throughout the bird's range. According to a press release about the Oklahoma law suit, the cooperative effort has cost $26 million dollars to create the voluntary conservation plan. Plan enrollees are optimistic the Fish and Wildlife Service can cite the conservation commitment as justification for a decision not to list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species.
A Domestic Energy Producers Alliance spokesman states: "this designation could disrupt drilling and exploration on hundreds of thousands of very promising oil and gas lands in this part of the country." The Center for Biological Diversity has made no secret of their disdain for oil and gas extraction and has filed many successful lawsuits specifically to block development.
Pruitt says: "the sue-and-settle timelines force the (Fish and Wildlife Service) to make determinations without a thorough review of the science. This violates the original statute requiring sound science before listing species."
Stephen Moore, formerly with the Wall Street Journal, explains: "Under the Obama administration, the feds have entered into a consent agreement with the environmentalists to rush forward a judgment on an unprecedented number of species. A 2012 Chamber of Commerce study found record numbers of such 'sue and settle' cases under Obama."
The lawsuit is seeking "declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of the (Endangered Species Act)." Moore reports: "The relief is intended to overturn designations of dozens of species added to the threatened or endangered list through the 'sue and settle' process."
The Oklahoma lawsuit asserts: "the Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by agreeing in its settlement with Wild Earth Guardians to not consider the statutorily-created 'warranted but precluded' category when determining the listing status of the 251 candidate species." Additionally, the lawsuit states: "the (Fish and Wildlife Service) violated the law by agreeing to a truncated timeline to the decision-making process on the listing status of the 251 candidate species, essentially sidestepping the rule making process."
Pruitt believes that: "because these settlements are taking place without public input, attorneys general are unable to represent the respective interests of their states, businesses, and citizens." Forbes Contributor Larry Bell agrees: "While the environmental group is given a seat at the table, outsiders who are most impacted are excluded, with no opportunity to object to the settlements."
Bell describes the "sue and settle" practice — sometimes referred to as "friendly lawsuits" — this way:
Cozy deals through which far-left radical environmental groups file lawsuits against federal agencies wherein court-ordered "consent decrees" are issued based upon a prearranged settlement agreement they collaboratively craft together in advance behind closed doors. Then, rather than allowing the entire process to play out, the agency being sued settles the lawsuit by agreeing to move forward with the requested action they and the litigants both want.
In a succinct soliloquy about the lesser prairie chicken and greater sage grouse, which also is listed as endangered, Fox Business' Stuart Varney says: "I've always been amazed at the ability of a very small, but well-funded, group to get their way using the court system. But, that is what really is happening. The sage grouse and the lesser prairie chicken interests are obviously far more important than America's interest in energy independence."
Gratefully, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has stepped up to the plate and used the environmentalists' tactics and filed a lawsuit against the federal government. It will not delay the Monday deadline for the Fish and Wildlife Service decision on the lesser prairie chicken, but it could "overturn designations of dozens of species added to the threatened or endangered list through the 'sue and settle' process" — which could include the lesser prairie chicken. It could prevent the unnecessary listing of thousands of other flora and fauna — allowing companies to continue providing the jobs, producing the oil, natural gas, and other commodities such as timber and critical minerals that are so important to America and our energy freedom.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE).