On March 17, 2014, the State of Oklahoma sued the U.S. Department of the Interior, taking aim at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's habit of settling large Endangered Species Act cases with Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations. The lawsuit signals an important escalation in the fight against such settlements. ESA lawsuits have become a key tool to prevent or delay project development activities, including in the oil and gas industry. Over the last several years, FWS has repeatedly settled NGO lawsuits with consent agreements in which FWS commits to prioritize the NGOs' chosen species for potential listing "“ and on a fixed timetable. The largest settlement resulted in FWS agreeing to examine 455 different species over the course of five years. lawsuithighlights several additional concerns with these settlements, including:
- They eliminate FWS's discretion to keep species on the "candidate list" where FWS identifies species that are eligible for listing, but for which it lacks the resources to list.
- They foreshorten the listing process in order to meet an arbitrary schedule, without regard for whether the best science is available to make the listing decision.
- They limit FWS's ability to examine the positive efforts the State has made or supported to conserve certain species and their habitat.