To say it’s time for us to call Captain Planet to stand against Trump isn’t entirely fair. That time was when he withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords, after all. But like any good comics villain, Trump has continued to threaten the natural world.
In this case, it’s changing the nature of the Endangered Species Act.
As Vox summarized the rule change, it provides greater flexibility for the enforcers of the ESA to take into consideration economic impacts and redefine what “the foreseeable future” is in context of individual cases. Taken together, this allows for a greater ability to side with mines and industry over the species their work might endanger or eliminate.
“These proposals would slam a wrecking ball into the most crucial protections for our most endangered wildlife,” said Brett Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity. ““If these regulations had been in place in the 1970s, the bald eagle and the gray whale would be extinct today.”
Hartl,the CBD government affairs director, said that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke would be remembered as “the extinction secretary”.
One of the key considerations involves decreasing the protections for “threatened” species, which are the tier below “endangered” and are currently treated similarly under the ESA, thus allowing things that would pose a risk later of extinction to be done now that wildlife has slightly greater numbers.
The policy also changes the designation process of habitats deemed critical to the continued survival of a species. Species with these protected habitats are twice as likely to successfully recover according to the CBD.
The New York Times also pointed to the change in the “foreseeable future” as a tool for climate change denial to run ESA enforcement. Both in the distance of time considered and the probability that the Administration assigns to changing climate impacting species’ survival the redefinition of “foreseeable future” can greatly weaken the practical ability to accurately predict the potential extinction of a species after human impact.
The Endangered Species Act is immensely popular. The Ohio State University found that only one in ten Americans oppose the ESA. It’s also hugely successful: the act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the species it governs and generated a pronounced recovery for more than 100 species.
The law and its precursor are credited with saving the bald eagle, America’s bird. This on its own is a massive symbolic victory for the concept of the Endangered Species Act.
And that concept is, itself, endangered now.
The public has 60 days to react to the proposed changes.