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Udall: Overhaul ‘guts’ Endangered Species Act

Male lesser prairie chickens vie for females in eastern New Mexico. The Trump Administration announced an overhaul of the ESA on Monday. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said the Trump Administration’s announced overhaul of the Endangered Species Act takes “a wrecking ball to one of our oldest and most effective environmental laws.”

The administration unveiled its changes to the act Monday, saying the new regulations of the ESA were designed to increase transparency and effectiveness, and bring the administration of the act into the 21st century.

“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal – recovery of our rarest species. The act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement. “An effectively administered act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”

But New Mexico’s senior senator said in a press call that the overhaul “guts the Endangered Species Act.”

“It prohibits climate change from being considered as having a foreseeable impact,” Udall said.

He, and Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark said the new regulations could shrink the habitats endangered species need to survive, and voiced concerns about economics being considered for the first time in the implementation of the act.

“Allowing cost calculations of big polluters to determine whether a species deserves protection – while denying climate science and rolling back protections for habitat – is the absolute wrong approach at a time when we are in the middle of a human-caused sixth mass extinction. We need to strengthen the ESA, not cripple it,” Udall said.

Rappaport Clark said the new regulations would make it “harder to identify critical habitat” and said economic considerations could open the door for politics as a factor for listing or delisting of an endangered species.

The ESA directs that determinations to add or remove a species from the lists of threatened or endangered species be based solely on the best available scientific and commercial information, and these will remain the only criteria on which listing determinations will be based, the Department of the Interior said in a statement.

When designating critical habitat, the regulations reinstate the requirement that areas where threatened or endangered species are present at the time of listing be evaluated first before unoccupied areas are considered.

“This reduces the potential for additional regulatory burden that results from a designation when species are not present in an area,” DOIs statement said.

Rappaport said that would “hamstring biologists from protecting habitats.” She said the top threat to species was loss of habitat.

In addition to regulations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a separate revision rescinding its “blanket rule” under a section of the ESA. The rule had automatically given threatened species the same protections as endangered species unless otherwise specified. USFWS will craft species-specific rules for each future threatened species.

Udall vowed to fight the changes in Congress. Rappaport Clark said the new regulations would be challenged in court.

“For more than 40 years, the ESA has been a pillar of environmental protection in this nation,” Udall said. “Its success – and its support among the American people – are undeniable.”

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