On Thursday, the Interior Department announced plans to roll back legislation designed to protect the US' endangered and threatened species. These amendments to the Endangered Species Act are yet to become law but could be ratified by the end of the year.
The proposal is said to be "streamlining" and "modernizing" a 45-year-old act, but many critics say it is part of a systematic attack on the environment to appease industry figures and Republican Congressmen, who have been lobbying against the law for decades. It also comes in the wake of a raft of changes seeking to weaken animal and environmental protections, including the reversal of a ban on elephant trophies and an offshore drilling proposal, which will threaten 68 national park sites.
"The changes to the Act would introduce more routes for political interference," Charise Johnson said, writing on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists, "while relegating science to an afterthought instead of the basis upon which Endangered Species Act decisions are made."
The proposed changes would make it easier to delist endangered species and make it harder to protect lands near endangered species habitats. It will also remove the scope of protection currently afforded to animals listed as threatened, which (as of right now) is the same as those listed as endangered. Instead, protection will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
“When some of our listing decisions have been challenged, courts have sometimes appeared to set a higher bar for removing a species from a list than putting it on – that takes valuable resources away from species that do need that determination under the act,” said Greg Sheehan, deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), The Hill reports.
The changes could also remove current stipulations requiring federal agencies to consult scientists and environmental agencies before granting building permits for activities such as oil and gas drilling. The act, as it stands at the moment, requires officials to act in whichever way is best for the endangered species, ignoring economic interests. But this too may be amended if the proposal goes through.