The Trump administration on Monday announced changes to the way agencies will enforce the Endangered Species Act that it says will provide more regulatory transparency and consistency. Critics, however, say the move shifts the focus from science to economic impacts.
The changes include lessening protections for future species listed as threatened, which is defined by the Fish and Wildlife Service as a plant or animal that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. Previously, threatened and endangered species were given the same protections to stem population losses.
Agencies can also limit how they factor in climate change and other future problems in their listing decisions and review processes to prevent speculation, officials with the FWS and the National Marine Fisheries Service told reporters on a Monday morning call.
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Additionally, the new rules allow for agencies to highlight the economic impacts of protecting a species and change the process for how they designate habitat deemed “critical” for a species’ long-term survival.
Agency officials said the actions will “modernize” the law, which is the framework to conserve and protect endangered and threatened species and their habitats in the U.S. The law is widely considered a success and protects more than 1,600 species of plants and animals as well as their habitats.
Critics of the plan say it is another example of the Trump administration giving in to industry demands.
“Science must guide our decisions, not dollar signs,” Rebecca Riley, the legal director for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s nature program, said in a statement. “We shouldn’t use economic factors to decide whether a species should be saved.”
Earthjustice, a non-profit focused on litigating environmental issues, threatened to sue.
“This effort to gut protections for endangered and threatened species has the same two features of most Trump administration actions: it’s a gift to industry, and it’s illegal,” Drew Caputo, Earthjustice vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife and oceans, said in a statement. “We’ll see the Trump administration in court about it.”
Many opponents of the changes cited a United Nations report published in May that found that humans are pushing 1 million species to the brink of extinction at a rate “tens to hundreds of times higher than it has been, on average, over the last 10 million years.” The top drivers of these losses are changes in the use of land and sea, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution and invasive species, according to the assessment.
“This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world,” Josef Settele, co-chairman of the panel that produced the report, said in a statement.