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OpinionEditorial

Don't betray the nation's natural resources

A grizzly bear mother and her cub walk

A grizzly bear mother and her cub walk near Pelican Creek in the Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming on October 8, 2012. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images/KAREN BLEIER

It’s particularly perverse that the Trump administration’s response to the shocking UN report that as many as 1 million plant and animal species are at risk for extinction is a proposal to weaken the law that protects endangered species in America.

In the perpetual struggle between the need to protect the environment and the desire to allow industry to flourish, President Donald Trump consistently sides with corporations, to the detriment of the nation. His administration seeks to undermine rules and laws that help clean our water and air, and to roll back fuel efficiency standards for cars. That would make our nation more polluted and less healthy, while enriching the corporate titans who support Trump.

Now the administration wants to significantly weaken the Endangered Species Act. Signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1973, it has been the best tool wielded to protect wildlife, fish and plants. Among the species it has nursed back to health are the bald eagle, grizzly bear, humpback whale, American alligator, Florida manatee and gray wolf. But the law has frustrated the coal, oil, natural gas and mining industries by putting large swaths of habitat for endangered species off-limits to development and exploitation.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt says the changes will increase “transparency” in applying the Endangered Species Act. That’s rich coming from a former oil and gas lobbyist whose agency under Trump subtly added to its mission of natural resource protection a goal to “promote energy security and critical minerals development.”

The current law says protection decisions will be based solely on science without considering negative economic impacts, such as lost revenue for companies not permitted to drill. The revision would let regulators calculate those costs, but officials say that won’t be used when deciding whether to put a species on the endangered list. That doesn’t pass the smell test. Why do an economic analysis if it’s going to be ignored?

The changes also will bar regulators from taking climate change — a key driver of species extinction by rendering habitat unlivable — into consideration. That likely would not have allowed the polar bear to be protected because of the continuing loss of sea ice in the Arctic.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the new rules would not sacrifice protection and recovery goals, a blatant mistruth since the whole purpose is to weaken protections. He added that a “robust” public process produced “significant” input that helped shape the new rules. But more than 800,000 public comments, the large majority of those received, were from people who opposed the changes. And polling shows that 83 percent of Americans, including more than 70 percent of conservatives, support the Endangered Species Act as is.

The changes, expected to take effect in September pending court challenges, will not effectively protect species, and do not reflect the will of the American people. But they will degrade our lands and improve corporate bottom lines. That’s a terrible trade-off. The new rules that would sabotage the Endangered Species Act should be allowed to die, not the species they purport to protect.

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