Critics Decry Administration's Changes to Endangered Species Act

By Knickmeyer, Ellen | Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), August 13, 2019 | Go to article overview

Critics Decry Administration's Changes to Endangered Species Act


Knickmeyer, Ellen, Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque)


BY ELLEN KNICKMEYER

The Associated Press

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.

The action, which expands the administration's rewrite of U.S. environmental laws, is the latest that targets regulationsfor 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.

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 resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation."

Under the enforcement changes, officials for the first time will be able to publicly 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 a major and growing threat to wildlife.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the 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."

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 Richard Nixon signed it into law in 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 years-long 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 enforcement were "a good start" but he would continue working to change the act.

Previous Trump administration actions have proposed changes to other bedrock environmental laws - the clean water and clean air acts. The efforts include repeal of an Obama-era act meant to fight climate change by getting dirtier-burning coal-fired power plants out of the country's electrical grid, rolling back tough Obama administration mileage standards for cars and light trucks, and lifting federal protections for millions of miles of waterways and wetlands. …

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