It was a move that critics say will hurt plants, animals and other species as they face mounting threats. The Trump administration is making major changes to how the Endangered Species Act will be implemented. The U.S. Department of Interior on Monday announced a suite of long-anticipated revisions to the nation’s premier wildlife conservation law, which is credited with bringing back the bald eagle and grizzly bears, among other species.
GOP lawmakers and industry groups celebrated the revisions, some of the broadest changes in the way the act is applied in its nearly 50-year history.
This effort come at a moment of crisis for many of the world’s plant and animal species. As many as 1 million species are at risk of extinction — many within decades — according to a recent U.N. report.
Wildlife groups and Democratic lawmakers are promising to challenge the new rules in Congress and in court. “Now is the time to strengthen the ESA, not cripple it,” said New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall on a press call.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt says the revisions will help conservation efforts and increase transparency around the law.
One of the changes will allow economic costs to be taken into account while determining whether a species warrants protection. Another will weaken the initial protections given to species deemed to be threatened, one step shy of being endangered.
The changes will apply only to future listing decisions.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says the changes fit “squarely within the president’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals.”
“These final rules are a good start, but the administration is limited by an existing law that needs to be updated,” said Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso in a statement. “We must modernize the Endangered Species Act in a way that empowers states, promotes the recovery of species, and allows local economies to thrive.”
Numerous environmental groups and state attorneys general vow to sue the administration over the changes, alleging they are illegal because they’re not grounded in scientific evidence.
“We don’t take these challenges lightly,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra during a conference call. “We don’t look to pick a fight every time this administration decides to take an action. But we challenge these actions by this administration because it is necessary.”