Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt revealed revised regulations for the Endangered Species Act this week, which Republicans say will improve business in areas hampered by the restrictions and which critics say will harm wildlife at a critical time.
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“The revisions finalized with this rulemaking fit squarely within the President’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement. “These changes were subject to a robust, transparent public process, during which we received significant public input that helped us finalize these rules.”
According to the Interior, the amendments to the act clarify the standards required for listing and reclassifying species, as well as designating a critical habitat. The department says the changes will make the ESA consultations with federal agencies more efficient and will establish deadlines for applications “without compromising conservation.”
“The Endangered Species Act exists to identify struggling species and help them recover. Unfortunately, current implementation is drawn out and ineffective,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) said. “[These] actions will help achieve actual species recovery while providing much-needed clarity and stability to those who are too often held hostage by the ESA.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife also clarified determinations between threatened species and endangered species, which were all previously protected under the same regulations. For now, the modifications will only impact future threatened species’ listings or reclassifications from endangered to threatened.
During the public comment period, lawmakers argued about the lack of transparency in species listing decisions and, conversely, the economic impact of these listings.
California and Massachusetts, two states that have been outspoken about Trump’s environmental rollbacks, threatened lawsuits from their attorneys general to block the changes in the law.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy said unequivocally her state opposed the Trump administration’s changes to the act.
Other conservation groups and critics argue these changes challenge critical environmental protection efforts in the middle of a climate crisis.
A United Nations report warned in May that species were declining at "unprecedented" extinction rates and "accelerating" with more than 1 million plants and animals globally facing extinction due to human threats and climate change.
Some Republican lawmakers lauded the intentions of law, but said these updates align with struggling American businesses and farms negatively impacted by the onerous regulations.
"The Endangered Species Act was created with the good intention of protecting and conserving species on the brink of extinction. But in reality, it has inflicted more harm than good on Texas ranchers and farmers, along with the species it aims to protect,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said. “These reforms are an important step toward strengthening state and local conservation efforts, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to build on this progress by advancing the SAVES Act."
The Endangered Species Act is recognized for saving countless animals, including the American icon the bald eagle since 1973 when it was signed by President Richard Nixon. The act currently protects more than 1,600 species in the United States and its territories.
The updates to the ESA can be found here.