Trump administration finalizes second rule in days limiting habitat protections

Trump administration finalizes second rule in days limiting habitat protections
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The Trump administration on Thursday finalized a rule that could make it harder for habitats with endangered or threatened species to get federal protections. 

The new rule, first proposed in September, would require the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) not to give an area critical habitat protections if an analysis determines that there are more benefits to not providing the protections. 

In these analyses, the new rule would also require the government to weigh benefits that are “consistent with expert or firsthand information,” for areas that are determined to be outside the scope of FWS’s expertise. 

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It said that such areas include non-biological impacts identified by a state and local governments, tribes or company with a federal lands permit or lease. 

Critics say that this could be used to tip the scales against conservation and in favor of industry, even allowing them to use their own determinations of what the benefits of excluding an area from a critical habitat designation might be. 

“This is clearly this 1-2 punch where they totally skew the analysis of costs and benefits in favor of destructive industries and then they tell every future administration that if...that needle points even a smidge towards costs outweighing benefits, you must strip protection from that area,” said David Henkin an attorney with Earthjustice. 

However, when it proposed the rule in September, the administration pitched it as a consistency measure and said that it both codified and modified current practice. 

“The proposed regulations would provide greater transparency for the public, improve consistency and predictability for stakeholders affected by [Endangered Species Act] determinations and stimulate more effective conservation on the ground,” FWS director Aurelia Skipwith said in a statement. 

The rule will also reverse a prior policy that restricted the government from exempting federally-managed lands from critical habitat protections. 

The new rule comes immediately after the administration earlier this week finalized a rule that narrowed the definition of what is considered a habitat under the Endangered Species Act, also making it more difficult for areas to get federal protections. 

“The Trump administration is spending their last days attacking science, ridding environmental safeguards and making way for extractive industry to the detriment of wildlife, lands and waters and our communities,” Bonnie Rice, an endangered species campaign representative at the Sierra Club, said in a statement.