(CN) – Democrats introduced legislation Tuesday that would repeal rules the Trump administration used to reduce protections under the Endangered Species Act.
In August, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced changes that substantially rolled back the Endangered Species Act: rules that limited protections for species listed as threatened, that made it easier to remove species from the endangered list and that allowed the use of economic assessments as part of the process for determining whether to list a species under the act.
The move was widely viewed by environmentalists as an attempt to clear the way for an increase in mining, logging and other extractive activities by weakening the country’s strongest law protecting wildlife – a law that is responsible for preventing the extinction of bald eagles, grizzly bears and whooping cranes, as well as 99% of the species listed under its protection.
On Tuesday, Democrats introduced a bill that would repeal the rules planned to take effect this month. Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva of Arizona introduced H.R. 4348, the “Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Protection Act of 2019” or the “PAW and FIN Act of 2019.”
Democratic Representative Don Beyer of Virginia and Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan are also sponsoring the legislation.
“We are in the middle of an extinction crisis, and President Trump is bulldozing the most important tool we have to protect endangered species,” Grijalva said in a statement. “If we don’t stop the Trump administration’s short-sighted rollbacks, more wildlife habitats will be sacrificed to oil and gas development.”
When asked to respond to claims that the new rules would weaken protections for imperiled species in the midst of an extinction crisis, a spokesman for the Interior Department called the question “fundamentally flawed and untrue.”
Interior Spokesman Nick Goodwin instead pointed to comments made by Gary Frazer, assistant director for endangered species at U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the agency responsible for approving listings under the Endangered Species Act.
“We certainly have revised regulations in the past,” Frazer said during a press call after the new rules were announced. “We just took advantage of this administration to do a more comprehensive review of our regulations than we have done in the past. But it’s an ongoing job to keep this act and our implementing regulations current and reflective of the needs that species have and the public expects.”
Frazier added: “Conserving species is very much a function of trying to reconcile their needs with the needs of humans. Growing population, the need for more food and fiber, for energy resources – all those things are challenging, and the Endangered Species Act is all about finding ways to reconcile those other societal needs, human needs, with species conservation.”
Environmental groups sued last month to challenge the Trump administration’s new rules in federal court in San Francisco. The suit accuses the federal government of rolling out the rules without first determining how they would affect threatened and endangered species and of refusing to allow public comment on the new rules before making them final.