Biden administration moves to reverse Trump endangered species rollbacks

Biden administration moves to reverse Trump endangered species rollbacks
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The Biden administration is taking aim at Trump-era rollbacks to endangered species protections, though environmental advocates have raised concerns about how long their actions could take.

In a statement on Friday, federal agencies said they would “initiate rulemaking in the coming months” to either rescind or revise Trump-era rules that lessened protections for these species, or reinstate pre-Trump language that provided additional protections for endangered animals and plants. 

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to working with diverse federal, Tribal, state and industry partners to not only protect and recover America’s imperiled wildlife but to ensure cornerstone laws like the Endangered Species Act are helping us meet 21st century challenges,” said Martha Williams, the principal deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in a statement. 

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Environmentalists praised the decision to reverse course, but also expressed concern about how long the process could take since it would mean leaving the Trump rules in effect in the meantime. 

“We are currently in the midst of an unprecedented global extinction crisis, and endangered species have no time to waste,” Earthjustice said a statement. 

“We are grateful the Biden administration is moving to protect the most imperiled species by reversing the Trump-era rules, but time is of the essence. Each day that goes by is another day that puts our imperiled species and their habitats in danger,” the organization said. 

Earthjustice and others brought court challenges to the slate of rules issued by the Trump administration in 2019 and 2020 that weakened species protections, often in favor of industry. 

Among the changes in question are those that limited protections for species that are considered “threatened,” limited how factors like climate change can be considered in decisions on whether to protect a species and altered the review process for projects that are approved on habitats.

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The Trump administration additionally narrowed the definition of what is considered a habitat — and thus receive habitat protections. It also put forth a rule that would exclude an area from receiving habitat protections if an analysis determined there are more benefits, including those identified by industry, to not provide them.

The Friday statement from the FWS and the National Marine Fisheries Service said that the administration will propose rules to rescind the two regulations that changed the definition of a habitat and allowed for excluding certain areas.

They also said they would reinstate language that affirmed that decisions to protect species are made “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination” and also revise changes made on interagency cooperation, saying that it will revise the definition of what is considered an effect of an action and also look at "other potential revisions." 

And they said they would reinstate a previously withdrawn rule that automatically extended protections to threatened species. 

When it promulgated the rules, Trump administration officials argued that they provided consistency and prevented using speculation in decisionmaking.

Republicans criticized the Biden move on Friday, with Rep. Bruce WestermanBruce Eugene WestermanPush for Civilian Climate Corps highlights underlying obstacles to restoring public lands Honoring America's real VIPs House passes bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol MORE (Ark.), the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, arguing that it may allow such protections to be weaponized.

"By reinstating burdensome regulations, this administration has once again opened the door for environmental groups to weaponize the ESA and use it to delay critical projects across the country. These changes will result in greater inefficiency in the federal permitting process and reduce incentives for proactive conservation," Westerman said a statement.

Interior Secretary Deb HaalandDeb HaalandHaaland, Native American leaders press for Indigenous land protections Interior Department to review proposal for first wind power project off North Carolina coast Overnight Energy: Manchin grills Haaland over Biden oil and gas review | Biden admin reportedly aims for 40 percent of drivers using EVs by 2030 |  Lack of DOD action may have caused 'preventable' PFAS risks MORE had previously indicated that some of these Trump-era rules could be in the department’s crosshairs, naming changes made on endangered species as among those at the top of her list to reverse. 

Updated: 3:44 p.m.