(EnviroNews DC News Bureau) — Washington DC — Signed into law in 1973 by President Richard Nixon, the Endangered Species Act (ESA/the Act) is bar none, one of the most popular pieces of legislation in America. But that hasn’t stopped the Trump Administration from attempting to undermine and weaken the law with one move of environmental deregulation after another, in what conservationists are calling a full-frontal assault on the Act. But on September 17, 2019, Democrats in both the House and Senate moved to put a stop to all that with the introduction of a new bill.
The Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Conservation Act, or “PAW and FIN” for short, was introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-NM), Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and co-signed by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI). A Senate version was introduced by Sen. John Udall (D-NM) and signed by several co-sponsors. Udall is the ranking member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.
“If we don’t stop the Trump Administration’s short-sighted rollbacks, more wildlife habitats will be sacrificed to oil and gas development,” Grijalva wrote in a post on Twitter. “[I’m] proud to introduce this new legislation that upholds the Endangered Species Act,” the Congressman concluded.
If we don’t stop the Trump Administration’s short-sighted rollbacks, more wildlife habitats will be sacrificed to oil and gas development.
Proud to introduce this new legislation that upholds the Endangered Species Act. https://t.co/6JeBwXfvWw
— Raul M. Grijalva (@RepRaulGrijalva) September 17, 2019
It’s not only concerned legislators that are fighting to kibosh DOI’s new rules, it’s environmental groups too. In a major collaborative effort on August 21, 2019, eight of the country’s most prominent environmental non-profits teamed up to sue the Trump Administration for its new policy — and specifically for the same rules PAW and FIN targets. Represented by Earthjustice, the plaintiffs in that case include: Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians, and the Humane Society of the United States.
The PAW and FIN Act of 2019 moves to terminate regulations adopted by the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) earlier this year. Specifically, it takes aim at a set of three rules that drew opposing comments from approximately 800,000 Americans.
According to the aforementioned non-profit coalition, the changes “allow consideration of economic factors in decisions about whether species are listed as threatened or endangered, strip newly listed threatened species of automatic protection, weaken protection of species’ critical habitat, and relax consultation standards that are meant to ensure federal agencies avoid jeopardizing species’ survival.”
In a unified press release, the groups pointed out they are suing on three points where they said the Administration broke the law:
1) The Trump Administration failed to publicly disclose and analyze the harms and impacts of these rules, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
2) The Administration inserted new changes into the final rules that were never made public and not subject to public comment, cutting the American people out of the decision-making process.
3) The Administration violated the language and purpose of theEndangered Species Act by unreasonably changing requirements for compliance with Section 7, which requires federal agencies to ensure that actions they authorize, fund, or carry out do not jeopardize the existence of any species listed, or destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat of any listed species.
The same coalition also announced it is suing the Administration on multiple angles related to the ESA, pointing to a 60-day notice of intent filed one day earlier on August 20. That filing attacks a new rule injecting economic considerations into listing decisions.
Despite the assaults launched at the ESA by President Trump’s Interior Department, Noah Greenwald, Endangered Species Director for the Center for Biological Diversity (the Center/CBD), told EnviroNews this certainly isn’t the first time the Executive Branch has attacked the Act.
“The Bush Administration issued similarly terrible regulations for the ESA,” Greenwald told EnviroNews in an email interview. “[And] there’s a good reason for that. David Bernhardt, who is [currently the] Secretary of the Interior, was a solicitor at Interior [under] Bush.”
“These changes crash a bulldozer through the Endangered Species Act’s lifesaving protections for America’s most vulnerable wildlife,” Greenwald said in a press release issued by the Center back in August. “For animals like wolverines and monarch butterflies, this could be the beginning of the end.”
Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate with WildEarth Guardians, told EnviroNews that while attacks on the ESA aren’t new, “this scale of change is pretty unprecedented.”
Accentuating Jones’ point, Greenwald points to an ESA tracker tool the Center has developed called, “Politics of Extinction.” The tool logs a record and informs the public about each new legislative threat to the ESA.
“Since the 115th Congress was sworn in on January 3, 2017, it has already seen the introduction of at least 75 legislative attacks seeking to strip federal protections from specific species or undercut the Endangered Species Act,” the Center says on the tracking tool’s page, continuing, “Since 1996 there have been a total of 378 bills introduced seeking to dismantle critical species protections, the majority of which (308) [have] been introduced since 2011, when the Republican Party took control of the House of Representatives.”
Poll after poll has demonstrated the ESA remains immensely popular with American citizens. Since it was enacted, the law has successfully thwarted extinction for a remarkable 99 percent of the species harbored under it. A 2015 poll conducted by Tulchin Research indicates a whopping 90 percent support for the Act by registered voters, including 96 percent of self-identified liberals and 82 percent of self-identified conservatives. A more recent study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University indicates that at least four out of five Americans support the ESA.
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