The Trump administration took its final step to weaken the Endangered Species Act, a law that brought the bald eagle, American alligator, and other animals back from the brink of extinction.
A couple of new rules will allow the administration to reduce the amount of habitat saved for wildlife, and also reduce tools that predict future harm to specific species as a result of climate change. It would additionally reveal for the first time in the history the financial cost of protecting them.
The long-predicted changes, announced by the Interior and Commerce departments, were undertaken as part of President Trump’s mandate to scale back government regulations on corporations. This includes the oil and gas industry, that want to drill on those particular protected lands.
“The revisions finalized with this rulemaking fit squarely within the president’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
“These changes are a subject to robust, during which we received a large portion of public input that helped us finalize the said rules”.
The rules will affect listing decisions in the future and are not retroactive at all. They will take effect 30 days after being published in the Federal Register.
After Monday’s announcement, the state attorneys general of California joined a conversation group called “Defenders of WIldlife” – declaring the changes illegal and” vowing to challenge them in court further.
“You can anticipate that we will see many states join this action,” said Maura Healey, attorney general of Massachusetts. “The way this was done was illegal under federal laws and this is an administration that needs to be held accountable.”
Jamie Rappaport Clark, leading the FIsh and Wildlife Service while Clinton administration, said that people who spent their lives trying to recover and protect endangered animals find this move “devastating”.
In May of this year, a U.N report on world biodiversity found that 1 million plant and animal species are close to extinction – with very alarming implications for human survival.
The report was written by seven experts from around the world, and directly connected the loss of species to human activity and display how those losses are threatening food and water security, including human health.
More plants are facing extinction now than any other period in human history claimed the report.
Currently, only Congress can change this act, but rule revisions reflect on the administration’s interpretation of how it should be applied. The ’73 Endangered Species Act passed unanimously in the Senate but a margin in the House.
Under the new rules, it would have been nearly impossible to choose the polar bear as threatened in 2010 because of the loss of sea ice in the Arctic. Currently, almost 200,000 square miles of a barrier island in Alaska are inhabitable.
Officials relied purely on climate models on predicting how warming could impact polar bear habitat 80 years from now. The new rules, however, called such predictions into doubt, and officials can now only determine impacts of what is known as the “foreseeable future”.
In response to submissions to the proposed rule changes, the officials argued said that they were no discounting climate science, only asserting that climate projections were uncertain.
“Our regulatory framework for the foreseeable future does not undermine these requirements,” officials said.
Additionally, the new rules would limit the area of land that might be protected to help species survive. Right now, land that plants and animals occupy and use is set aside for their protection, together with areas that they once occupied or might need in the near future.
Currently, the critical habitat might not be protected and would be used for oil and gas exploration.
Another rule change displaced away language that said a secretary “should make a determination solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial information of a species status” regardless of the cost.
Interestingly enough, by removing that sentence the administration allowed the interior and commerce secretaries to consider the economic impact of a listing.
“There is no reason to do this except to deliberately inflame public opposition to the species or to the act as a whole,” said Bob Dreher, a vice president for conservation at Defenders of Wildlife.
A Republican who fought all this life to change that particular act applauded the administration’s efforts!
Republicans argue that recovering listed species takes too long. Of more than 2,000 listed species, only 47 have been recovered. There are about 1,200 animals and 700 plants listed.
Eighteen species, like the American wolverine and Taiwanese humpback dolphins, are under consideration to be endangered or threatened. Another 18 are being considered for delisting after population growth.
On the other hand, conservationists took the complete opposite view and decried the changes as a major rollback of the wildlife conservation law in the world.
“They’re trying to make it difficult to protect unoccupied habitat,” said Rebecca Riley – director for nature programs at the Natural Resouces Dense Council. “We know climate change is going to force animals to move to new places”.
For instance, she claimed, the western snowy plover that nests on the case is being affected by sea-level rise.
“As the sea rises, it will need to move inland. And if we can’t protect those areas just because they’re not occupied today, that might not be there when they need it”.
“Today, the Trump administration issued regulations that take a wrecking ball to one of our oldest and most effective environmental laws, the Endangered Species Act,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said in a statement. “As we have seen time and time again, no environmental protection — no matter how effective or popular — is safe from this administration.”