The New York Times Company
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration Monday announced it would change the way the Endangered Species Act is applied, significantly weakening the nation’s bedrock conservation law credited with rescuing the bald eagle, the grizzly bear and the American alligator from extinction.
The changes could clear the way for new mining, oil and gas drilling, and development in areas where protected species live. The new rules will make it harder to consider the effects of climate change on wildlife when deciding whether a given species warrants protection. They would most likely shrink critical habitats and, for the first time, allow economic factors to be taken into account when making determinations.
“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,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement Monday. “The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation.”
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement the finalized revisions “fit squarely within the president’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals.”
Environmental groups denounced the changes as a disaster for imperiled wildlife at a time when the United Nations has warned that human pressures are poised to drive 1 million species into extinction and that protecting land and biodiversity is critical to keep greenhouse gas emissions in check.
Climate change, a lack of environmental stewardship and mass industrialization have all contributed to the enormous expected global nature loss, the report said.
David Bernhardt, the secretary of the Department of Interior, wrote in an op-ed last summer that the 1973 Endangered Species Act places an “unnecessary regulatory burden” on companies.
Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife and oceans at Earthjustice, listed a few of the animals at risk from this change: Polar bears and seals that are losing crucial sea ice; whooping cranes whose migration patterns are shifting because of temperature changes; and beluga whales that will have to dive deeper and longer to find food in a warmer Arctic.