White House changes law protecting endangered species
WASHINGTON >> The Trump administration moved on Monday to weaken enforcement of the 45-year-old Endangered Species Act, ordering changes that critics said will speed the loss of animals and plants at a time of record global extinctions.
Pushing back against the criticism, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and other administration officials contend the changes improve efficiency of oversight, while continuing to protect rare species.
“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal — recovery of our rarest species,” he said in a statement. “An effectively administered Act ensures more re
sources can go where they will do the most good: onthe-ground conservation.”
The action, which expands the administration’s rewrite of U.S. environmental laws, is the latest that targets protections, including for water, air and public lands. Two states — California and Massachusetts, frequent foes of President Donald Trump’s environmental rollbacks — promised lawsuits to try to block the changes in the law. So did some conservation groups.
Under the enforcement changes, officials for the first timewill be able topublicly attach a cost to saving an animal or plant. Blanket protections for creatures newly listed as threatened will be removed. The action also could allow the government to disregard the possible impact of climate change, which conservation groups call amajor and growing threat to wildlife.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the revisions “fit squarelywithin the president’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals.”
The Endangered Species Act is credited with helping save the bald eagle, California condor and scores of other animals and plants from extinction since President RichardNixon signed it into lawin 1973. The act currently protects more than 1,600 species in the United States and its territories.
While the nearly half-century-old act has been overwhelmingly successful in saving animals and plants that are listed as endangered, battles over some of the listings have been yearslong and legendary. They have pitted northern spotted owls, snail darters and other creatures and their protectors against industries, local opponents and others in court and political fights. Republican lawmakers have pushed for years to change the law itself.
John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who leads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Monday’s changes in enforcementwere “a good start” but hewould continue working to change the act.
Monday’s changes “take a wrecking ball to one of our oldest and most effective environmental laws, the Endangered Species Act,” Sen. TomUdall, a New Mexico Democrat, 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.”
A bald eagle takes flight at the Museum of the Shenandaoh Valley in Winchester, Va.