Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Kill Off Everything

Trump is finally doing something about the environment: he’s making it worse.

In May, a United Nations panel on biodiversity released a massive, troubling report on the state of the world’s animals. The bottom line: As many as 1 million species are now at risk of extinction if we don’t act to save them.

Species of all kinds — mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, plants, marine life, terrestrial life — are disappearing at a rate “tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the last 10 million years” due to human activity, the report stated. It implored the countries of the world to step up their actions to protect the wildlife that remains — like the endangered gray wolves and caribou that roam the United States, or the threatened polar bear in the Arctic.

The Trump administration has just done the opposite.

On Monday, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced they were pushing through changes to the Endangered Species Act that will, in effect, weaken protections for species, and possibly give industry more leeway to develop areas where threatened animals live. A draft proposal of these rule changes was announced last summer. And now the rules go into effect in 30 days after they are officially published in the federal register (which the New York Times expects will happen this week).

The Trump administration’s alterations don’t change the letter of the ESA, which was passed in 1973 during the Nixon administration. But they do change how the federal government will enforce it. Here are two of the biggest changes. (Read the full new finalized rules here.)

Currently, species that are listed as “threatened” are defined as “any species which is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.” (Threatened is a designation that’s less severe than “endangered.”) The new rules constrain what is meant by “foreseeable future” and give significant discretion in interpreting what that means.

The next president can — and one hopes with the fervor of a gasping drowning person — reverse these orders, but by then it will be too late for some.  And with corporate backing and greed in control, the changes could be easily be made permanent.  But hey, we’ll always have cheap oil and gas, so win-win!