US President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday finalized rollbacks to key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, a law supported by a large majority of Americans and credited with saving the gray wolf, bald eagle and grizzly bear.
The changes include removing a rule that automatically conveys the same protections to threatened species and endangered species, and allowing information on economic impact to be gathered when making determinations on how wildlife is listed.
In a statement characterizing the amendments as “improvements,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said: “The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal — recovery of our rarest species.
“An effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation,” added the former oil and gas lobbyist.
Democratic politicians expressed outrage, saying the rollbacks could push some species toward oblivion.
“For decades, the Endangered Species Act has protected our most vulnerable wildlife from extinction. Now, President Trump wants to throw it all away,” tweeted presidential candidate Joe Biden.
“At a time when climate change is pushing our planet to the brink, we should strengthen protections — not weaken them,” he wrote.
“The administration’s decision to dismantle the Endangered Species Act in order to benefit huge corporations will only further harm the environment. Congress should do everything it can to reverse this action,” Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a statement.
Conservation groups also reacted with dismay, vowing legal challenges against what the nonprofit Sierra Club dubbed the “Trump Extinction plan.”
Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice, told AFP: “Prior to today, a newly-listed threatened species would immediately have protections in place, there was sort of a default rule.”
But “a species could be listed right now and it would have no further protections than it did before it was listed under the act” until a species-specific review takes place, she added, and even then it was not clear how robust those protections would be.
– ‘Death by a thousand cuts’ –
Other changes include modifications allowing companies to build roads, pipelines, mines, and other industrial projects in an area designated as a “critical habitat” for a species — paving the way for its gradual destruction so long as each individual step is sufficiently modest.
“So it allows this death by a thousand cuts,” said Boyles.
Federal agencies may also begin gathering information on the economic impact of listing animals as threatened, despite the fact that the statute as passed by Congress explicitly states that science alone should determine if species should be protected.
Species like the gray wolf saw their population decimated in the early 20th century, but staged a remarkable comeback thanks to the law — which was signed by former Republican president Richard Nixon in 1973 — and are now legally hunted in the Northern Rockies.
Similarly, there are today some 10,000 nesting pairs of bald eagles, the national symbol of the US, from a low of 417 in 1963.
A 2018 paper published in the journal Conservation Letters found that about four in five Americans support the act, while one in 10 oppose it, and support for the law has remained stable over the past two decades.
“The great majority of Americans value our natural heritage and find inspiration in it. This administration seeks to trash what so many value, what excites our children and generations to come,” said Duke University conservation ecology professor Stuart Pimm.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has targeted more than 80 environmental and health regulations in the name of easing regulatory burdens on business.
Environmentalists have fought back with lawsuits, and some rollbacks have later been reinstated.
Final Emmys beckon for TV stars of ‘Thrones’ and ‘Veep’
TV stars from Westeros to the White House will hit the red carpet in Los Angeles on Sunday as "Game of Thrones" and "Veep" take their final tilts at Emmys glory.
The long-running HBO smash hits helped the premium cable network raise the game for the small screen -- with 74 Emmys between them, they are among the most decorated shows ever at television's answer to the Oscars.
Both hope to add to their record hauls before they bow out at the glittering ceremony in downtown LA's Microsoft Theater.
While the divisive final season of "Thrones" enraged many fans, it is the Television Academy's 24,000-plus voters who get to choose the winners.
WATCH: Trump admits he talked to Ukraine president about Joe Biden and his son
President Donald Trump Sunday morning admitted he brought up Joe Biden and the former Vice President’s son Hunter Biden while speaking with the President of Ukraine.
“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, with largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place and largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption,” Trump said, speaking to reporters from the White House lawn.
BREAKING: President Trump admits that he talked to the Ukrainian president about former Vice President Biden. #MTP #IfItsSunday@kristenwelker: "From the president's perspective, the only way to put this story to bed is to release the transcript." pic.twitter.com/aaJ6DjMN0E
‘Left wing hack’: Fox News fans lose it after anchor calls Ukraine allegations ‘a problem’ for Trump
Fox News viewers lashed out at the network on Sunday after host Arthel Neville grilled New York Congressman Peter King (R) about President Donald Trump's alleged effort to get Ukraine to help him defeat Joe Biden.
Neville twice asked King about Trump's Ukraine scandal, and both times he evaded the question by saying that Congress does not have a right to know the details of Trump's conversations with foreign leaders.
On her third attempt, Neville got to the point by noting Trump's alleged actions are "a problem."
"We don’t know that it’s true, we hope it’s not true," the Fox News host said of the allegations against Trump. "But if there is a possibility that our president used his office to put pressure on a foreign government -- president-elect -- to dig into his possible, potential political opponent, then that’s a problem."