“Cruelty is the point.” We hear this a lot when folks try to explain the terrible policies flowing out of the Trump administration. And although this news has gotten buried by so many other insane announcements from the White House, I did want to look at how the Trump administration is going after the Endangered Species Act.
The Endangered Species Act of 1973, signed by President Nixon, has been rather uncontroversial. 4 out of 5 Americans support it. (Source) It is credited with saving the bald eagle, humpback whales, Louisiana black bears, and 52 other species. It has been enormously effective in its goal of identifying and protecting endangered and threatened species.
The need for a strong Endangered Species Act was made that much clearer when, back in May, the United Nations published an extremely disconcerting report that said as many as 1 million species are in danger of extinction due to human activity. The report strongly urged nations to step up their protections of those threatened species.
So what did our government do? In mid-August, the the Trump administration announced that they were making changes in how they are going to enforce the Endangered Species Act. (They can’t change the law itself because they’d need Congress to do that.)
Going forward, the Trump administration will use different criteria to determine if a species is endangered or not; the species on the “threatened” list won’t be protected anymore; and now the economic cost of protecting a species will be weighed, which experts believe swings the door wide open for industry to have a big say in decisions going forward.
By limiting the protections, and getting involved with what species should and shouldn’t be on the list, industry (especially oil, gas, and mining) will be able to get onto and develop land that they had previously been barred from touching.
Skirting ethical rules
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) reports on, and often sue the government, when officials violate ethical guidelines. They noted that the official in the middle of these rollbacks of the Endangered Species Act is Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. Prior to becoming the Interior Secretary, Bernhardt was … you guessed it, a lobbyist for the oil industry.
As a former lobbyist, he had to recuse himself for 2 years from any decisions regarding the oil industry. Bernhardt announced these changes just NINE DAYS after his recusal period ended. He appears to have been involved in a lot of meetings and discussions prior to these rules being announced. CREW has a list of ethical concerns about Bernhardt listed HERE.
Organizations have sued
A lawsuit was filed one week after the changes to the Endangered Species Act were announced. The suit was filed by Earthjustice, on behalf of the Sierra Club and 6 other groups.
“This action is clearly intended to benefit developers and extractive industries, not species, and we are going to court to stop it. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to ensure that threatened and endangered species are protected for future generations.” (Source)
What you can do
This is one of those issues where a massive uproar from the public can make a difference. You can lend your voice and passion for this issues in a few key places.
First, send a message to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. The Natural Resources Defense Council has a form and a pre-written letter that you can use HERE. Of course, it is always a good idea to add some words of your own. Personalize it.
Next, the Sierra Club has a tool that makes it easy for you to send a message to your own members of Congress about this issue. Make it easy on yourself, and recycle the language you used in the message above! After you do that, they have sample tweets that you can use, too.
Thank you for taking action.