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The Trump Administration Just Turned the Endangered Species Act Into a Fossil Fuel Lobbyist’s Dream

Two 45-day-old bengal tiger cubs cuddle.

For years, Republican lawmakers have been trying to overhaul the Endangered Species Act. But even back when they controlled both chambers of Congress, they couldn’t manage to pass their oil lobby-friendly bills. Now, though, Donald Trump–who has filled the Environmental Protection Agency with former coal, petroleum, and other pollutant lobbyists–has bypassed the need for legislation by rewriting the rules for how the act is applied.

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To start, these new rules make it easier to move a protected animal from the endangered list to the threatened species list. They also drastically reduce protections for animals on that threatened list.

It will now be much harder for regulators to factor in climate change when making their list assessments and gives the government discretion to determine what is meant by the phrase “foreseeable future.” Meaning they don’t have to take into consideration the effect current decisions may have on climate change if the resulting destruction won’t be seen for a generation.

The United Nations recently released a 1500-page report stating that around one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction–many within decades–as a direct result of human influence. Rising Arctic temperatures force Beluga whales to dive deeper and longer to find food and are causing polar bears, seals and other animals to lose the sea ice they need to survive. The Bengal tiger is expected to go extinct by 2070 as rising sea levels destroy all habitable marshland. But 2070 probably isn’t considered the “foreseeable future,” so Republicans don’t have to care.

On top of all of this, the new rules also allow regulators to take economic factors into consideration when making assessments. Under the current rules, those assessments have to be based solely on science. But now, they can weigh the cost-benefit of, say, introducing mining or oil or gas drilling into an area against the risk it poses to a vulnerable species living in that area. If it would be too costly to keep that species alive, well, sorry animals. I guess they should have chosen to exist somewhere with fewer oil deposits.

Opponents of the Endangered Species Act are thrilled. According to the New York TimesInterior Secretary David Bernhardt said the changes would modernize the act. Would you be surprised to hear that until he joined the Department of the Interior, Bernhardt was an oil lobbyist? Of course you wouldn’t!

Utah’s Rep. Rob Bishop told the Times called the previous “one-size-fits-all practices” of the ESA “inappropriate” and said that under the Obama administration, it had become a “political weapon instead of a tool to protect wildlife.” Guess who Bishop’s biggest donor is. That’s right, the oil & gas industry.

The NYT writes that Republicans have insisted the current rules are “not reasonable because species are rarely removed from the list. Since the law was passed, more than 1,650 have been listed as threatened or endangered, while just 47 have been delisted because their populations rebounded.” It seems likely that the Trump administration will try to sell this as a win for the environment because they’re about to upgrade a whole bunch of species from “endangered” to only “threatened,” as if they did anything for those animals except put them–and, by extension, by damaging the earth’s necessary biodiversity, us–at extreme risk of extinction.

(via NYT, image: MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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