Over 20 actions items aimed at rolling back portions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have been proposed or voted on by Congress over the past two weeks.
These proposals are an attempt by the Trump Administration and Republican controlled Congress to undermine the act, which has protected wildlife and prevented industry from destroying protected habitats for 45 years.
One of the overhaul’s main components is an unprecedented provision forcing policymakers to consider the economic effects of protecting animals before placing them on the endangered species list. This would also make it easier to remove animals currently on the list.
“The last few weeks have seen the most coordinated set of attacks on the Endangered Species Act I’ve faced since I got to Washington,” said Representative Raúl Grijalva from Arizona.
Currently, species on the endangered species list are defined by their risk to become endangered in the “foreseeable future.” The administration plans to change the definition of “foreseeable future” to only include cases where extinction is probably. They will also eliminate rules that treat threatened species to the same protections as endangered species.
These proposals will also make it more difficult to classify habitats being threatened by climate change.
In 1973, The Endangered Species Act passed the House of Representatives with a 355-4 vote and was signed by President Nixon in 1973. It has been largely successful, as it was fundamental to the repopulation of the American alligator, the gray whale and the bald eagle.
Only about 1 in 10 Americans oppose the ESA. Pushes to weaken the ESA come mainly from industrial and agricultural interest groups. Republican lawmakers resent the restrictions on logging, mining and drilling in protected habitats that could help corporate interests profit.
“This proposal turns the extinction-prevention tool of the Endangered Species Act into a rubber stamp for powerful corporate interests,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.
Between 1990 and 2010, only about five proposals to amend or weaken the ESA were introduced each year. In the past two years, there have been about 150.
Congress’ actions on the ESA follow a wave of anti-environment action since Trump’s election. During Trump’s first month in office, the administration ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) not to speak to the press and not to post on social media outlets or blogs. They also froze federal grant spending at these same agencies, which many took as a sign that climate change research would soon halt.
Trump’s first 100 days also included an executive action to advance the constructions of the long embattled Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, fulfilling a campaign promise that left many environmental and indigenous rights activists concerned for the future.
Media Resources: The Verge 7/19/18; PBS 7/21/18; Feminist Newswire 1/26/17