At a time when species face an unprecedented threat from human activities, the Trump administration is rolling back key protections for those most at risk of extinction.
On Monday, the administration made official a proposal to weaken the Endangered Species Act that’s been in the works for a year. The landmark conservation law is the reason bald eagles bounced back from the brink, and it continues to provide protections for more than 1,600 species of animals and plants. But the Trump administration changes will weaken those protections and make it harder to factor climate change into deciding whether to list species while allowing federal agencies to consider the potential economic impacts of listing species. The rule change fits with the Trump administration ethos of wringing the last few bucks out of a dying planet.
Chief among the changes are removing the “blanket section 4(d) rule.” There are two types of listing under the Endangered Species Act: endangered and threatened. The latter is a less acute designation than endangered, but the 4(d) rule allows Fish and Wildlife Service to extend some of the same protections to threatened species that it does to endangered ones since the whole point of the act is keep species from becoming endangered or even worse, going extinct.
The Trump administration is wiping that rule off the books, providing a boon for extractive industries, developers, and industrial farms that have operations impacting threatened species. As Earther reported last July when the rule changes were first proposed, this change is likely to make it more likely for species to end up endangered.
Beyond that change, the administration has also included more specific language about what “foreseeable future” in the act means. Specifically, the new rules call the foreseeable future “only so far into the future as the Services can reasonably determine” what a threat to a species is. This may seem insignificant, but it has dire implications.
A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warned that up to a million species face extinction globally as a result of human activities, including the repercussions of climate change. Just how bad climate change will get is largely based on how much carbon pollution humans put in the atmosphere in the coming decades. That means the impacts are somewhat fluid, in the sense that sea levels could rise two feet or three feet.
The former flexibility of the Endangered Species Act’s “foreseeable future” language allowed regulators to consider a range of scenarios and timeframes. The new language could tie the hands of regulators, making it harder to list species—or alternatively, allow regulators to ignore the future imp