Are new rules a threat to endangered species?

Mike Bebernes

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What's happening:

On Monday, the Trump administration announced sweeping new changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that will weaken the law's conservation impact.

Under the new rules, threatened species would no longer be automatically awarded the same protections as species classified as endangered. The change would for the first time allow regulators to consider the economic impact of habitat protection — such as lost revenue from a ban on logging or mining — in their decision making. It would also make it more difficult to factor in climate change in those decisions, make it easier to remove species from the endangered list and potentially limit the size of protected areas for some species.

Enacted in 1973, the ESA has been credited with saving hundreds of plants and animals from extinction, including the bald eagle, the grizzly bear, the humpback whale and the manatee. The act has prevented 99 percent of the species listed from going extinct, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Why there's debate:

The announcement of the new rules led to an outcry from environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers. The Center for Biological Diversity called the changes a "massive attack on imperiled wildlife." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the rules show "utter disdain for science and the future."

Some have called the new provisions a handout to destructive business interests like the fossil fuel industry. The changes, some argue, will result in many of the 1 million species at risk of extinction disappearing forever.

The ESA has long been criticized by some groups as an impediment to businesses, farmers and hunters, and puts undue burden on people in rural parts of America. Supporters of the administration's move say the changes will allow the act to be exercised in a more thoughtful, targeted way.

What's next:

The new rules are set to go into effect next month, but legal challenges may delay their implementation. The attorneys general of California and Massachusetts have vowed to sue the Trump administration to block the new rules from going into effect, as have several conservation groups.


The new rules will cause more species to go extinct

"These irresponsible and short-sighted changes will lead to further extinctions, damage the ecosystem and set back the nation’s efforts to protect wildlife." — Editorial, Los Angeles Times

The impact the ESA has on rural Americans will be reduced

"The Endangered Species Act has been a contentious issue in places like Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, with Republican politicians complaining in the past that the act failed to take into account the needs of landowners, hunters and ranchers whose lands are the habitat of many of the endangered species." — By Andrew O'Reilly, Fox News

The number of species that have been saved from endangered status is very small

"Republicans note the law has only recovered about 1% of the species that have been placed on the endangered species list." — Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner

The move is part of a campaign to put business interests over environmental concerns

"These changes are part of a broad suite of policies advanced by the Trump administration to favor industries like mining and fossil fuels by limiting or scrapping the environmental protection rules they have to follow." — Brian Resnick, Vox

The new rules make landowners more likely to help in conservation, rather than oppose it

"When the Endangered Species Act pits rare species against the people who own habitats that could help in their recovery, no one wins. That's why the policy tweaks announced this week are sensible." — Tate Watkins, Reason

Business-friendly moves like this are why Republicans put up with Trump's behavior

"These arguments could have been made — and have been made — by any Republican Cabinet member going back to the administration of Ronald Reagan. This didn't start with the current president. It has been on the Republican wish list ever since the party's power base swung south and west. Why do they stay with him? He's the president they've waited their whole lives for, that's why." — Charles P. Pierce, Esquire

The changes send a political message to voters in key 2020 states

"Even if the changes never go into effect, Trump 'succeeded' insofar as he can tell big landowners and big business he did something for them. And the groups and states railing at him? He’ll tell his low-information voters this is just the coastal 'elites' telling us what to do." — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

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