Interior Department Announces Revisions To Endangered Species Act

Aug 13, 2019
Originally published on August 13, 2019 4:29 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

At least two state attorneys general and several wildlife groups are saying that they will sue to stop the Trump administration's revisions to the Endangered Species Act. NPR's Nathan Rott has more on what's in the revisions themselves.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: The suite of rules that Trump administration finalized yesterday don't change the actual language of the Endangered Species Act; only Congress can do that. But they do change how the landmark conservation law is implemented, when and how. And in the eyes of Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, they change it for the worse.

JAMIE RAPPAPORT CLARK: The new regulations will eliminate key protections for threatened species. It will weaken the bedrock consultation requirements. It will open the door for burdensome and inappropriate cost-benefit analysis and more and more and more. So it's bad.

ROTT: Rappaport Clark led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the Clinton administration. She's also worried about a change that she says could allow the Trump administration to discount the impacts of climate change. And she believes that all of these revisions...

RAPPAPORT CLARK: In totality, are an illegal interpretation of the Endangered Species Act.

ROTT: The Trump administration says the changes were made to improve efficiency and transparency around the nearly 50-year-old law. Take the economic analysis example you heard earlier. One of the changes will allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to figure out how much listing a species as endangered or threatened would cost - transparency. But the agency is prohibited by law from using that information when making a decision to list a plant or animal. That decision must be made solely on science.

Brian Yablonski is the executive director of the Property and Environment Research Center. He was at the administration's unveiling ceremony Monday in a crowded room.

BRIAN YABLONSKI: Tells me a lot of folks have been working on this for a long time.

ROTT: Yablonski was happy to see some of the changes, particularly the removal of a rule that meant threatened species automatically get the same protection as endangered.

YABLONSKI: We have an endangered and we have a threatened category, and they were supposed to be distinct and separate categories, and in practice, it hasn't been treated as such.

ROTT: That, he says, may sound small, but it makes a big difference on the ground. By listing a species as threatened but not giving it automatic protections, he thinks it will encourage more landowners to cooperate with wildlife officials. It gives them skin in the game.

YABLONSKI: In terms of recovering species, we need private landowners to step up.

ROTT: Critics worry, though, that it could lead to no protections at all, and they point out that a million species are at risk of extinction worldwide, many within decades.

Nathan Rott, NPR News.

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