Conservationists and elected officials prepare to take legal action to protect key environmental protections.
The Trump Administration is attempting to gut the 1973 Endangered Species Act, the federal law that protects endangered and threatened species.
In what is being described as a spectacularly tone-deaf decision, the announcement came just three months after the United Nations released a warning that Earth is on the brink of a major extinction event, with as many as one million species at risk.
“Over the objections of nearly everyone, the Trump Administration has eviscerated one of our nation’s foundational environmental laws,” wrote Rebecca Riley, Legal Director for the Natural Resources Defence Council’s (NRDC) Nature Program, in response to the Trump Administration’s August 12 announcement.
“Poll after poll shows Americans support the Endangered Species Act as a lifeline to the wildlife it protects. The Administration ignored the hundreds of thousands of objections from scientists, wildlife experts, and the American people, who overwhelmingly support the act.”
The proposed changes would reduce the protections for threatened species, the designation given to at-risk plant and animal species before they become endangered. Currently, the act protects both classifications. The new policy does not, and that means few or no protections for threatened species. The Trump Administration also wants to make it harder to list species, while prioritizing extractive and exploitative industries like oil and mining, over the needs of imperiled wildlife.
Riley describes the move as “willful ignorance” on the part of the Trump Administration, which continues to ignore the impacts of climate change. “Many parts of the Endangered Species Act could be helpful in taking a more forward-looking perspective on climate impacts to wildlife, but that seems like an impossibility from this president,” she stated.
Both of California’s U.S. Senators have blasted the move. “We should be protecting our environment, not selling it off to the highest bidder,” tweeted Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Kamala Harris. “The Endangered Species Act was passed to save animals from extinction—because the unique species that inhabit our country are worthy of protection. Now, we must fight to save the law itself.”
“The administration’s dismantling of the Endangered Species Act to benefit corporations is irresponsible and shortsighted,” wrote Senator Dianne Feinstein. “The law saved iconic species from extinction, species like the desert tortoise and California condor. Congress should do everything it can to reverse this action.”
State Senator Henry Stern, who represents the Topanga Area and much of the Santa Monica Mountains, is the author of SB 1, a bill that would freeze federal environmental protections including the acts that protect air, water, climate, and endangered species, at pre-Trump levels, to prevent any further erosion of protections and make them enforceable at state levels.
“At this rate, we will win this lonely war against all other species, achieving a harrowing solitude on this inherited earth,” Stern wrote in an August 12 editorial. “We still have the option to choose a different path. SB 1 is a small but important step in a new direction.”
Stern accuses the Trump Administration of burying its head in the sand. “Last year, the administration rolled back protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and cut safeguards for threatened species under the Endangered Species Act,” Stern wrote.
If passed, SB 1 would join other key California legislation, like the California Endangered Species Act, to safeguard the state’s resources, but it doesn’t help areas that have few or no state-level protections, states that rely on the federal Environmental Protection Act as the foundation for conservation.
That’s why a coalition of conservation organizations, including the NRDC, EarthJustice, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity are already gearing up to sue the federal government.
“Science must guide our decisions, not dollar signs,’ writes Riley. “We shouldn’t use economic factors to decide whether a species should be saved. We’re facing an extinction crisis and the Administration is placing industry needs above the needs of our natural heritage.”
Attorneys General Xavier Becerra of California and Maura Healey of Massachusetts have already committed to filing a lawsuit.
Healey described Trump’s move as “an end run [around] existing law.”
“We’re ready to fight to preserve this important law,” wrote Becarra in a joint statement. “The species with whom we share this planet, and depend on, deserve no less.”