BY KATIE LANNAN | STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON – The Trump administration on Monday rolled out plans to change the implementation of the Endangered Species Act, prompting Attorney General Maura Healey to announce she will sue over the move, saying it would dismantle important protections for at-risk wildlife and their habitats.
“By gutting key components of the Endangered Species Act, one of our country’s most successful environmental laws, the Trump administration is putting our most imperiled species and our vibrant local tourism and recreation industries at risk,” Healey said in a statement. “We will be taking the administration to court to defend federal law and protect our rare animals, plants, and the environment.”
Healey and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the new rules would allow federal agencies to ignore “serious threats to endangered animals and plants,” limit the circumstances when a species can be listed as threatened, and eliminate a requirement that agencies consider a species’ ability to recover before removing it from the endangered or threatened list.
Healey’s office said she believes the rules “would pave the way for approval of oil and gas and other development projects despite any species impacts.” U.S. Sen. Ed Markey took a similar stance, saying the changes came “at the behest of the oil, gas, and mining industries” and “will put countless species in the crosshairs of extinction.”
“Ignoring the climate crisis has made the challenge for these threatened species greater. This rollback will fan those flames,” Markey said in a statement.
Healey and Markey, along with other Massachusetts officials, have also recently been critical of decisions by the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to delay the the $2.8 billion, 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project.
Since it was enacted, the Endangered Species Act has aided in the survival of 99 percent of all listed species, according to Markey’s office.
The U.S. Department of the Interior said its changes to ESA implementation were designed to increase transparency and effectiveness.
The changes, according to the department, “clarify that the standards for delisting and reclassification of a species consider the same five statutory factors as the listing of a species in the first place.” Other changes address designation of critical habitat with the goal of reducing “the potential for additional regulatory burden that results from a designation when a species is not present in an area.”
“An effectively administered act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement.
A series of statements in support of the changes, published by the Interior Department, included comments from five Republican U.S. senators and six members of Congress, the National Association of Home Builders, the Public Lands Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other organizations.
“Our industry actively works to conserve species every day, but the current regulatory framework for the Endangered Species Act hinders landowners and companies from effectively protecting and recovering species,” said Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma. “For far too long, the act has been weaponized to stop the production of food, fuel and fiber that Americans need every day while turning a blind eye to how red tape actually inhibits the recovery of species. This administration has the fortitude to move forward with common-sense rules that follow the law while improving species protection, despite the hyperbolic rhetoric.”
Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young said he is the only currently serving member of Congress who voted for the original Endangered Species Act of 1973 and that the courts since then “have turned it into a bureaucratic nightmare that could not have been anticipated.” He said the changes announced by Bernhardt will “bring it closer to its congressional intent.”
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