President Donald Trump‘s administration is making significant revisions to the Endangered Species Act, prompting criticism from experts who say the changes will have a devastating effect on the wildlife that the law is supposed to be helping.
The slew of changes was announced this week by the Department of the Interior, with Secretary David Bernhardt contending that, though this new implementation weakens the law’s requirements, it will increase transparency and effectiveness.
But the move has drawn scrutiny, most notably the elimination of a “blanket rule” that automatically gives threatened species the same protections as endangered species.
Bernhardt previously spoke out against the blanket rule, writing in a 2018 op-ed in the Washington Post that giving both classifications of species the same protections “places unnecessary regulatory burden on our citizens.”
Other changes include the tweaking of language so that climate change will no longer factor into regulators’ decisions when making assessments. Regulators are also now able to take economic factors into consideration when deciding if a species should be protected.
RELATED VIDEO: Leonardo DiCaprio Slams Trump Administration Over Climate Change
As the New York Times notes, the new rules “appear very likely to clear the way for new mining, oil and gas drilling, and development in areas where protected species live.”
The Endangered Species Act was implemented in 1973 by President Richard Nixon and has been credited with saving from extinction animals like the bald eagle (America’s national bird), the grizzly bear and the American alligator.
The World Wildlife Fund hit back at the so-called “improvements,” arguing in a statement that the revisions “disregard decades of evidence” that have kept the ESA effective.
“The Endangered Species Act was born of a bipartisan commitment to secure a future for nature and these changes fundamentally undermine America’s long-held promise to protect our planet’s amazing array of life. The changes disregard decades of evidence proving the Endangered Species Act’s effectiveness in conserving threatened wildlife and downplay the profound threat of climate-driven extinction,” the WWF said.
“In May, a landmark UN report found that biodiversity losses can significantly harm global economic stability and that around one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction,” the fund said. “The US Endangered Species Act has been a model for conservation efforts globally and weakening this effective law hamstrings US ability to help save species from extinction.”
The United Nations report mentioned in the WWF statement, published in May, found that one million animal and plant species were threatened with extinction — more than ever before.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also issued a statement slamming the law’s changes as an example of the administration putting “special interests ahead of the public interest.”
“The Trump Administration’s staggering special interest handout perfectly showcases its utter disdain for science and the future,” she said. “From Day One, this Administration has put the special interests ahead of the public interest. This latest disastrous decision deals a devastating blow to our natural inheritance and shamefully abandons our moral responsibility to be good stewards of our planet and its precious resources, all to help out big corporations and polluters – just days after the United Nations warned that our natural world is under ‘unprecedented threat.’”
Pelosi continued, saying that House Democrats would be “relentless” in fighting to combat the climate crisis and protect clean air and water.