Under newly proposed guidelines from the Trump Administration’s Department of the Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would be forced to take “economic impacts” into consideration when deciding whether to protect species. While this has a veneer of fiscal responsibility laid over it, the policy would potentially allow large corporations to move ahead with projects that would otherwise be prohibited under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The department proposal also includes provisions to stop extending similar levels of protection to animals and plants listed as either “endangered” or “threatened,” and would remove language preventing illegal “takes”—the harming or killing of species—for animals that have been newly added to the “threatened” list.
The ESA has the approval of some 90 percent of Americans.
“These proposals would slam a wrecking ball into the most crucial protections for our most endangered wildlife,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “If these regulations had been in place in the 1970s, the bald eagle and the gray whale would be extinct today. If they’re finalized now, [Secretary] Zinke will go down in history as the extinction secretary.”
The ESA was enacted in 1973 and has become “one of the most successful environmental laws in U.S. history,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity—currently protecting more than 1,600 species from extinction. Fewer than one percent of species have gone extinct once listed as protected under the Act. The regulations have kept fossil fuel companies, loggers and developers from interfering with their habitats as well as protecting many species from hunting.
“These regulations are the heart of how the Endangered Species Act is implemented,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who is now president of Defenders of Wildlife. “Imperiled species depend on them for their very lives. The signal being sent by the Trump administration is clear: Protecting America’s wildlife and wild lands is simply not on their agenda.”