Endangered Species Act to Be Strengthened

Endangered Species Act to Be Strengthened

The Biden administration moved on Wednesday to make it easier to protect wildlife from climate disruptions and other threats, restoring protections to the Endangered Species Act that President Donald J. Trump had removed.

Three separate regulations proposed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service would make it harder to remove a species from the endangered list and restore a provision that strengthens protections for threatened species, the classification one step below endangered.

The rules also eliminate a Trump-era policy that would have allowed regulators to factor in economic assessments, like estimates of lost revenue for oil and gas operations, when deciding whether a species warrants protection.

Listing species as threatened or endangered must be done, the proposed rule reads, “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination” and be made only based on the scientific evidence.

“The Endangered Species Act is the nation’s foremost conservation law that prevents the extinction of species and supports their recovery,” Martha Williams, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement. She said the proposed changes to the law “reaffirm our commitment to conserving America’s wildlife.”

A global biodiversity crisis has left species collapsing as humans take up more land, overfish the oceans and overheat the planet.

The rules drew immediate opposition from Republicans and industry groups who have long said that the Endangered Species Act unreasonably hampers economic growth.

“These proposed rules take us in the wrong direction,” Representative Bruce Westerman, the Arkansas Republican who leads the House Committee on Natural Resources, said in a statement. He accused the Biden administration of turning the Endangered Species Act “into a political battering ram, rather than a conservation tool.”

Senator Cynthia Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, said the Endangered Species Act needed reform but called the Biden administration’s proposal wrongheaded. “It is already difficult to remove a species from the endangered species list, and this new policy will make it nearly impossible,” Senator Lummis said in a statement.

Many Republicans have made the case that the act is not reasonable because species are rarely removed from the list. Since President Richard M. Nixon signed the measure into law in 1973, more than 1,650 have been listed as threatened or endangered, while 54 have been delisted because their populations rebounded, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Trump administration in 2019 put in place what conservationists called some of the most significant and worrisome changes to the law in a decade. It eliminated a provision that ensured threatened species received the same protections as endangered species, and it introduced for the first time the possibility that the cost to industry of protecting a plant or animal might outweigh the scientific data indicating that a species should be listed.

Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, the senior Democrat on the natural resources committee, said Mr. Trump’s changes had been “an industry handout that undermined science and put species at risk.”

McCrystie Adams, the managing attorney of conservation law for the Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group, called the Biden administration’s proposed rules “a really important step forward.”

But she and other activists also said they were disappointed that the rules did not go further in eliminating Trump-era provisions. The Biden administration, for example, did not seek to change language that could let projects proceed as long as they didn’t destroy critical habitat “as a whole.” Activists said that leaves open a loophole for pipelines or other projects that slowly encroach on critical habitat.

“Considering we are in the midst of an extinction crisis, this is a pretty disappointing signal that the Biden administration is really not prioritizing the recovery of endangered species,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.

The fallout on wildlife from the Trump rules was limited by the change in administration when President Biden took office, said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice, an advocacy group that has challenged the rules in court. But some species were affected, she noted, like the Mount Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan, a small grouse that lives in the Cascade Mountains of Washington and British Columbia, and the Texas hornshell, a freshwater mussel.

The Biden administration’s new rules will be subject to 60 days of public comment before they are finalized, most likely next year. When that happens, industry groups and others are expected to sue to overturn the rules.

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