There’s more grim news for an environment that’s just trying to get by under a Trump administration that keeps dismantling regulations designed to protect it: the President’s latest move is to make major changes that significantly weaken the Endangered Species Act.
It’s a move that environmental experts say has the potential to harm plants and animals across the U.S., especially since it comes during a time when it’s not exactly easy to be a plant or animal on this planet. A recent report from the United Nations found that a staggering 1 million species are at risk of extinction, largely thanks to human factors including overfishing, poaching, logging, mining, pollution and farming with harmful pesticides.
Seems Like a Good Time to Strengthen The Endangered Species Act, Then?
It sure does! Ever since Nixon signed the Act back in 1973, the law has received support from both sides of the aisle for often effectively executing its goal to identify threatened animal populations and prevent their extinction. It’s largely credited with helping several populations including brown pelicans, whopping cranes, gray whales, grizzly bears, peregrine falcons and bald eagles come back from the brink of extinction.
But policy makers and businesspeople with interests in industries including logging, oil, property development and ranching have long argued that the ESA has too many protections that prevent them from doing business. The Trump Administration has been indicating it would look to roll back some of those restrictions, and this week, they finally did.
What are the Changes?
The changes come in the form of subtle wording shifts to the law, so the on-the-ground differences will depend on how lawmakers continue to interpret the language of the act. But many experts are worried that the new guidelines will make it easier to minimize the protections that endangered and threatened species receive.
One of the biggest worries is that many of the language shifts could help regulators ignore climate change when deciding which species to list as threatened or endangered, largely because climate change is often falsely viewed as a long-term threat rather than one damaging ecosystems already.
It will also allow regulators to factor in the economic consequences of putting an animal on a list that would garner it protection. For example, let’s say a group of oil companies would have to spend a little extra in order to comply with protections for an endangered species in a protected wetland. For the first time, regulators could use that as a factor to deny the species the protection it needs to prevent extinction.
Overall, it may be a while until we see exactly how these changes affect threatened populations. But since it’s a time when it’s downright dangerous for many plants and animals to live on a warming, polluted planet, it’s also a good time to pressure your representatives to keep the Trump administration from rolling back any more environmental protections.