In 1973, the Endangered Species Act was signed into law to protect the many species in danger of becoming extinct as well as the ecosystems they depend on. Since then, over 227 species have been saved from potential extinction, including the bald eagle and grizzly bears.
“Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed,” wrote President Richard Nixon in his signing statement. “It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans.”
On Aug. 12, the Trump administration announced major revisions to the law. One such change will allow an economic analysis to be done during the determination of whether a species should be protected, and another will lessen the protections given to species considered threatened.
Many Republican lawmakers and industry groups are supportive of these changes. For decades, the Endangered Species Act has been criticized by some for being too restrictive to business; now, the Act under the Trump administration will essentially attach a cost to saving an animal or plant.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the changes coincide with, “the president’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals.”
Wildlife groups and Democratic lawmakers, however, are criticizing these revisions for coming during a time of environmental crisis. They cite a recent United Nations report that states that a record of as many as one million species are currently at risk of extinction, many within decades, due to human influence, climate change, and other threats. Because the changes to the Act will prioritize only the land an endangered species currently occupies, they could allow the government to disregard the impacts of climate change: as habitats shrink due to the warming climate, some species have been forced to migrate from their originally occupied lands.
These revisions, “take a wrecking ball to one of our oldest and most effective environmental laws, the Endangered Species Act,” said New Mexico Senator Tom Udall in a statement. “As we have seen time and time again, no environmental protection—no matter how effective or popular—is safe from this administration.”
Many environmental groups and state attorneys, including the states of California and Massachusetts, have promised to sue the Trump administration over the new changes. They allege that the administration’s actions are illegal due to prioritizing economic impacts and neglecting readily available scientific information.
“We don’t take these challenges lightly,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra during a conference call with NPR. “We don’t look to pick a fight every time this administration decides to take an action. But we challenge these actions by this administration because it is necessary.”