Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 21, 2023

Contact:

Stephanie Kurose, (203) 524-0562, skurose@biologicaldiversity.org

Biden Administration Retains Key Trump-era Extinction Policies

WASHINGTON— The Biden administration today proposed revisions to Trump-era regulations that severely weakened protections for our nation’s most imperiled animals and plants, keeping in place some of the most significant rollbacks to the Endangered Species Act in the law’s 50-year history.

“This disappointing proposal fails to protect our nation’s endangered plants and animals. It restores pieces of the Endangered Species Act but keeps many of the disastrous Trump-era provisions in place,” said Stephanie Kurose, senior endangered species policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If federal officials truly wanted to stem the extinction crisis, they’d restore the full power of the Act and overhaul the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, we need bold, transformative action, not more policy half measures.”

Today’s proposal restores protections for threatened species and includes a provision that prohibits consideration of economic impacts when deciding to protect species. It also removes barriers to designate critical habitat for climate-impacted species and to designate unoccupied areas as critical habitat.

The proposal, however, retains a number of harmful provisions governing the responsibility of federal agencies to avoid jeopardizing protected species or adversely modifying their critical habitat. In particular, it retains a definition of adverse modification that requires federal actions to affect species’ critical habitat “as a whole” before real habitat protections are put in place.

This is especially harmful for species like the northern spotted owl, polar bear or gulf sturgeon that have large critical habitat designations but are still at risk of extinction. For example, the Forest Service wouldn’t be required to mitigate harm caused by clearcutting old-growth trees in spotted owl habitat unless the logging project affected the owls’ entire 9 million-acre critical habitat.

“The administration’s proposal does nothing to address the fact that endangered species are dying a death by a thousand cuts,” said Kurose. “This is a major omission that shortchanges not only species like the spotted owl, but also the ecosystems they and all of us depend on for our survival. There’s just no way to ensure the survival and recovery of plants and animals without protecting the places they live.”

The proposal also lets federal agencies off the hook for past harms to endangered species from things like dam or highway construction by deeming these projects part of the “environmental baseline.” It also absolves the agencies for much of the damage caused by interrelated actions they facilitate, such as urban growth from highway expansion or increased global warming from emissions related to federal oil and gas leasing.

Last year, the Center filed a legal petition urging the wildlife agencies to undo the Trump-era rollbacks to the Act and pushing for ambitious new regulatory safeguards that strengthen all aspects of the law. Today’s proposal offers no new protections for endangered and threatened species.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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