CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey joined an 18-state coalition in a lawsuit that challenges overreaching federal rules that broadly expand the definition for “critical habitats” for endangered and threatened species.

The new rules block economic development by effectively subjecting any area currently unoccupied by an endangered species, but which may potentially host future endangered species, to more stringent regulations.

For example, the rules could result in the declaration of dry land as a critical habitat for freshwater mussels, thus blocking the construction of a highway under the belief that future formation of a stream could one day support the freshwater mussel.

“This is yet another example of federal overreach,” Morrisey said. “These federal agencies cannot exceed their congressional authority and put at risk decades of economic development on the remote chance of a dramatic transformation in habitat.”

The lawsuit was filed Nov. 29 against the U.S. Secretaries of Commerce and Interior, along with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The new rules extend federal authority over expansive areas where there may be “indirect or circumstantial evidence” that a protected species had ever occupied. The lawsuit contends “under this interpretation, (the federal government) could designate entire States or even multiple States as habitat for certain species.”

West Virginia joined the Alabama- and Arkansas-led coalition along with Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

The lawsuit was filed in the in the Southern District of Alabama.

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