Trump administration weakens Endangered Species Act in win for gas, mining and oil interests

Its decision to weaken the Endangered Species Act will likely put countless species of animals at risk

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published August 12, 2019 9:18PM (EDT)

Arctic polar bear and cubs in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Getty/sarkophoto)
Arctic polar bear and cubs in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Getty/sarkophoto)

President Donald Trump's administration announced Monday that it plans to significantly weaken the Endangered Species Act, a move which will almost certainly be disastrous for the environment but profitable for gas, mining and oil business interests.

The alterations to the Endangered Species Act will make it more difficult for environmental policymakers to factor climate change into their assessments of whether certain species warrant protection; make it easier to remove species from the endangered species list; and weaken protections for threatened species, according to the New York Times.

The move was denounced by David J. Hayes, former deputy interior secretary in the Obama administration and currently executive director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law, who told the Times that the Trump administration's policy alterations would "straitjacket the scientists to take climate change out of consideration" and that "we all know that climate change is now the greatest threat ever to hundreds of species."

In its official statement, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said that "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. The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation. An effectively administered act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation."

In the same press release, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross added that "the revisions finalized with this rule making fit squarely within the president’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals. These changes were subject to a robust, transparent public process, during which we received significant public input that helped us finalize these rules."

Back in May, Salon spoke with Michael E. Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, about the scientific community's relationship with the Trump administration — and, specifically, whether it would start speaking out about the president's poor environmental policies.

"I’ve been advocating that for years, but better late than never," Mann told Salon. "The short answer is: Yes, our planet is under attack by polluting interests and the politicians doing their bidding. The stakes couldn’t be greater. We scientists cannot stand on the sidelines. We must be on the frontlines, doing everything we can to inform the public discourse concerning policy-relevant science."

"Elections to have consequences. If a tiny fraction of voters who sat out the last presidential election under the misguided notion that there was no difference between the two candidates had voted, we wouldn’t be in the predicament we are now in," he continued. "That having been said, there are many ways we can influence policy. We must use our voice. Speak out, encourage others to do so and provide support for our children, who are now literally marching in the streets because they recognize what the stakes are. We must find our voice and use it, we must demand that policymakers represent our interests rather than the polluting interests and we must vote out those who won’t."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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