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Trump Administration Further Weakens Habitat Protection for Endangered Species

New Rule Would Give Polluters Veto Over Conservation of Imperiled Wildlife

WASHINGTON - The Trump administration proposed new regulations today that radically alter the existing process for deciding when to exclude a particular area from a critical habitat designation for wildlife or plants protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Under the Act the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must weigh the benefits of designating an area as critical habitat against potential economic impacts. The law already gives the Service the option to exclude areas from critical habitat if the impacts outweigh the benefits. Today’s proposed change would make habitat exclusions much more likely by requiring the Service to “assign weight” to industry claims of economic impacts, which can be highly speculative.

“Developers and polluters could basically veto any critical habitat protections for endangered species by claiming economic impacts, even without proof,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wildlife simply can’t survive or recover if they have no place to live, but that’s exactly what will happen if the Trump administration succeeds in turning over the critical habitat designation process to industry.”

The rule would also require the Service to consider excluding an area if requested and open federal lands to exclusion for the benefit of special interests exploiting those lands.

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Today’s rule is the third proposed by the Trump administration to weaken protections for the habitat of endangered species.

In 2019 the administration finalized sweeping changes to the rules implementing the Endangered Species Act that, among other things, specified that species would not get protected critical habitat unless habitat destruction was the primary threat. This led to the denial of critical habitat for the rusty-patched bumblebee this week.

Earlier this year the administration proposed to define critical habitat so that only areas that could currently support endangered species would be designated and protected, sharply limiting recovery.

“Added together, these rules are a disaster for endangered species and the natural world,” said Greenwald. “This administration doesn’t care about anything but money, and wildlife will suffer.”

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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