Interior Department deputy secretary David Bernhardt says the way the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is implemented today causes an "unnecessary regulatory burden" on U.S. taxpayers and companies.
Bernhardt makes the case for the administration's recently proposed changes to ESA implementation in a Washington Post op-ed on Friday, arguing that plans to strip "threatened" species of the same protections as listed "endangered" ones would clean up the "muddle" of the current state of the law.
Likening the ESA protected species list to a hospital's intensive care unit, Bernhardt writes that the new changes will ensure that the species with the "greatest need" get the most protections.
“Like with a hospital’s intensive care unit, the goal is not to keep patients there forever. The goal is recovery — to send the healthier patients home where they can continue to receive the lower level of care they still need,” Bernhardt writes.
Since its inception in 1973, the ESA has treated threatened species who are at the risk of being endangered the same as officially endangered ones when it comes to habitat regulations. The Trump administration aims to loosen those regulations for threatened species under the new plan. The new plan also proposes to make it easier to de-list species from their endangered status.
The fossil-fuel industry and land-development groups have long argued that the criteria for being listed under the ESA is easier than being de-listed.
Environmentalists often are in favor of keeping animals listed as threatened or endangered after the species has rebounded, fearing that stripping them of the protections afforded under the act will cause them to decline once more.
“With limited resources, we cannot and should not keep recovered species on the list forever," Bernhardt writes.
While Bernhardt promises that the Fish and Wildlife Service will consider the “best science” when determining endangered species act protections, he also pushes an administration idea of incorporating the economic impact of listing a species — calling it a “hallmark of good government.”
That concept has received pushback from conservation groups, who think species protections should be determined based on need, not economic impact.
In the editorial, Bernhardt, a former energy lobbyist who worked at the Interior Department under President George W. Bush, also appears to speak directly to those environmental groups who largely oppose the administration’s new measures, calling them “familiar faces” and saying that their opposition is “hyperbolic and unhelpful in promoting constructive discussion.”
“But they, too, should submit their ideas, because the status quo is unacceptable for everyone — including the various species of flora and fauna that merit the act’s protection,” he writes.