Group sues Trump for repealing U.S. wildlife rule in rare legal challenge

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An environmental group sued President Donald Trump’s administration on Thursday over the repeal of a U.S. rule intended to protect wildlife, in the first court challenge to a law being used by Republicans to ease federal regulation.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

In February, the Republican-controlled Congress used the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, to dismantle a rule that the administration of former Democratic President Barack Obama finalized in August to limit hunting on federal lands in Alaska.

The rule had exempted wolves and bears from Alaska’s plans to control predators, which included killing wolves and their pups in their dens and shooting bears from planes.

The CRA only requires simple majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate and the president’s signature to wipe newly minted regulations off the books.

In the federal court lawsuit, which likely has little chance of success, the Center for Biological Diversity said the CRA violated the U.S. Constitution because it barred regulators in the future from enacting “substantially similar” rules to the ones repealed.

“The Congressional Review Act throws the balance of power out of whack and opens the door for politicians in Congress to meddle in decisions that ought to be made by experts at federal agencies,” said Collette Adkins, a biologist and attorney at the center.

“By law the Fish and Wildlife Service must protect biological diversity on Alaskan wildlife refuges. But the act makes it more difficult for agency officials to carry out their legal duty,” she said in a statement.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The CRA, drafted in 1996, has a structure and language that abide by what the U.S. Supreme Court said in the case INS v. Chadha, likely making it constitutional, said Karl Manheim, professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Since Feb. 1, Trump has signed 13 congressional resolutions repealing rules on the environment, education, gun control, corruption and family planning. Most advocacy groups that had tried to block the resolutions said this week they were not intending to file similar suits.

“Unfortunately I don’t think there’s an avenue for courts to overturn a CRA resolution,” said Alison Zieve who works in litigation for the liberal Public Citizen group.

Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Peter Cooney