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D.C. lawmakers launch major attack on the Endangered Species Act

The Trump administration is pushing for major changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and claims that the modifications would provide government agencies with less confusion and more consistency while producing the best conservation results. Critics argue, however, that the proposal is a handout to big businesses, making it possible to develop land that is currently protected by the law.

For the last 45 years, the ESA has successfully prevented the extinction of 99 percent of species listed as threatened or endangered in the United States. In 1973, Congress wrote in the introduction to the ESA that plants and wildlife  “are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people.”

According to the New York Times, more than two dozen policy initiatives and amendments have been designed to weaken the reach of the ESA in the past two weeks. The news agency reports that these proposed changes include a measure that would lift protection for the gray wolf in Wyoming and along the western Great Lakes, as well as a plan to prevent the sage grouse from becoming a candidate for the endangered species list for ten years.

If the administration’s bill is passed, species that are classified as being “threatened” will no longer receive the same habitat protections as endangered species. In addition, it will become more difficult to get a species on the endangered list, and easier to have a species removed from the list.

One of the most controversial amendments would allow the economic consequences of conserving a plant or animal to be considered before the species could be approved for protection.

Opponents of the ESA believe that the law is in violation of private property rights and restricts economic development, which they say often results in the loss of American jobs and business profits. Big oil and gas companies, farmers, and ranchers in the western United States have pushed for changes to the ESA for years.

Richard Pombo is a former California congressman who helped write a revision of the ESA in 2005 that was rejected, and is now a lobbyist for mining and water management companies. Pombo told the New York Times: “It’s probably the best chance that we have had in 25 years to actually make any substantial changes.”

Dr. Andrew Rosenberg is the director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and a former deputy director of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“The Endangered Species Act has successfully saved 99 percent of listed species from extinction – and it’s an effective law because it’s grounded in science,” said Dr. Rosenberg. “The Trump administration would weaken that scientific foundation and make it much harder to create robust plans to protect species on the brink of extinction. Make no mistake: this is going to increase the chances that species go extinct.”

“Using short-term economic gain as a justification for not protecting endangered species is part of a pattern with this administration. Their repeated efforts to weaken science-based protections come straight off the wish lists of politically powerful industries like oil and gas extraction.”

“The Trump administration’s proposals to change the Endangered Species Act come at the same time as the President’s allies in Congress are proposing bills that would also undermine the law. These changes are a radical upending of our policy toward plants, animals and ecosystems. If these efforts succeed, we may have a law called the Endangered Species Act, but it won’t be remotely effective at protecting endangered species.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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