Trump administration releases revisions of Endangered Species Act

The Department of Interior on Monday, Aug 12, announced final revisions to the Endangered Species Act designed “to increase transparency and effectiveness and bring the administration of the Act into the 21st century.”

The revisions in the regulations mostly affect Sections 4 and 7 of the ESA, and largely mirror the draft revisions proposed in July 2018.

Section 4, among other things, deals with adding species to or removing species from the ESA’s protections and designating critical habitat. Section 7 applies to consultations and interactions between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DOI, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Commerce.

The changes do not apply to species already listed as threatened or endangered, but alter how future assessments are made. For instance, the changes end a policy that automatically extended a level of protection enjoyed by endangered species to species designated as threatened.

The revisions also change what is considered a critical habitat. The new regulations reinstate the requirement that areas where threatened or endangered species are present at the time of listing be evaluated first before unoccupied areas are considered. The revised regulations also impose a heightened standard for unoccupied areas to be designated as critical habitat. And for an unoccupied habitat to be considered essential to the conservation of a species, it must contain one or more of the physical or biological features essential to the species’ conservation.

The revisions also remove language that barred the use of financial impacts when determining whether or not to list a species under the ESA.

The revisions met with praise from industry groups such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the American Petroleum Institute, as well as Republican lawmakers, especially from the West.

“The Trump administration is taking important steps to make the Endangered Species Act work better for people and wildlife,” Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming said in a statement. “These final rules are a good start, but the administration is limited by an existing law that needs to be updated. I am working in the Senate to strengthen the law, so it can meet its full conservation potential.”

The revisions drew vigorous criticism from conservationists and Democratic lawmakers, as well as the attorneys general of California and Massachusetts, who have threatened to sue to have the revisions cancelled, arguing, among other things, that only Congress has the power to change the ESA.

“We are in the middle of an extinction crisis, and President Trump is bulldozing the most important tool we have to protect endangered species.” Democratic Representative Raul Grijalva from Arizona said in a statement. “These rollbacks of the ESA are for one purpose only: more handouts to special interests that don’t want to play by the rules and only want to line their pockets.”

The American Public Power Association is reviewing and analyzing the potential impact of the new rules on public power utilities.

According to policy Resolution 17-01 approved by its members, the Association supports the goals of the ESA and recovery of threatened and endangered species, but also supports Congressional efforts to update the law.

The resolution also noted that the law was originally enacted to conserve threatened and endangered plant and animal species, while ensuring a balance between the economy and the environment. “Maintaining the status quo of a law that has not been reviewed in over a quarter of a century is simply unacceptable,” the resolution stated.