Threatened-Species Safeguards Nixed by Trump Are on the Rebound

Five rules that made it harder to list species under the Endangered Species Act and to designate habitat for them return to the drafting table after Friday’s announcement.

This photo of a Nassau grouper appears in a complaint against federal agencies that have missed the deadline to establish a critical habitat for the endangered predator fish. “A friendly fish with a playful personality,“ the species is in rapid decline due to habitat loss and overfishing. (Image via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Stitching back up environmental protections unraveled by former President Donald Trump, the Biden administration set its sights Friday on five rules that have been making it harder these last four years for the United States to keep species off the brink of extinction.

The rules going back to the drawing table are enumerated in a statement from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Three have to do with designating habitat under the Endangered Species Act — a process that Trump complicated by making it possible to exclude some lands and to let potential economic considerations outweigh a determination.

Environmentalists are applauding reconsideration of the habitat rules as well as a rule that weakened the consultation process. The fifth change that the Biden administration has on the agenda is restoring automatic protections for any species newly listed as threatened.

Environmental groups that had heavily pushed back on Trump’s rules breathed a sigh of relief at the government’s announcement Friday.

“We’re grateful to see that these terrible Trump administration regulations that undermine critical protections for endangered wildlife will be rescinded or revised,” Noah Greenwald at the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement. “We hope the Biden administration acts quickly so no more harm can come to grizzly bears, whooping cranes and so many more.” 

In the statement from U.S. Fish and Wildlife, meanwhile, the agency’s principal deputy director, Martha Williams, underscored the Biden administration’s commitment of working “to not only protect and recover America’s imperiled wildlife but to ensure cornerstone laws like the Endangered Species Act are helping us meet 21st century challenges.” 

Slashing protections for more than 1,600 plants and animals, Trump announced more than a hundred environmental policy reversals during his single term in office — alarming the scientific community at large, which has long held up biodiversity as a solution to climate change.

One of Trump’s last acts of office redefined “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act so that the term referred only to a given species’ presently occupied ecosystem rather than its historical range. The policy moves were seen as wins for power plant owners, manufacturers, developers and pipeline companies, whose business operations could be constricted by protected habitats.

Groups like the Independent Petroleum Association of America have framed the Endangered Species Act as an outdated law.

“I was last renewed by Congress in 1988, meaning it has been more than 25 years since Congress last made any substantial updates to the 1973 ESA law,” the association writes on its site. “Today, with only a two percent recovery rate, the Endangered Species Act is failing to achieve its fundamental purpose of species recovery. Instead, the ESA law has evolved into legal tool used by some environmental organizations to advance an agenda that impedes American oil and natural gas production — destroying economic growth and job creation, while diverting hundreds of millions of American taxpayer dollars away from species recovery.”

Each of the Biden administrations revisions will go through a monthslong proposal and revision process including being published in the Federal Register and undergoing a public comment period.

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