Though not unexpected, the Trump administration’s announcement Monday that it will significantly weaken its enforcement of the Endangered Species Act is disappointing if not outrageous.
The administration is signaling that it will not allow wildlife to stand in the way of its friends in the mining, oil and natural gas industries. It’s consistent with its attitude on water quality, air quality, climate change and other environmental issues.
What else could be expected from a White House that is waging a multi-pronged war on science? It is suppressing, obstructing and shutting down researchers. It is minimizing their findings as “hoaxes.” And it is going to tremendous lengths to hinder public access to their conclusions.
The Endangered Species Act has been in place for 45 years, during presidential administrations of Republicans and Democrats. It has been credited with the recovery from near extinction of the bald eagle — our national symbol — as well as preservation of the American alligator and grizzly bear.
While the ’gator and grizzly don’t make the tri-state area their home — and aren’t particularly welcome as next-door neighbors — the eagle is another story. The rebound of the eagle population, now evident along our stretch of the Mississippi every winter, is testament to the positive results of the law’s protections.
But in their cases, as well as those of lesser known species, the Endangered Species Act has reflected our responsibility as stewards of the environment to preserve and protect the natural gifts that have been bestowed upon us.
That the Endangered Species Act has been on the books for decades does not mean that it has been free of controversy. Indeed, critics say it is too strict, and impedes progress and development. That’s long been the complaint of the oil and gas industry, as well as mining interests, which want open season on some of the most pristine and environmentally fragile areas under U.S. control.
Of course, Trump’s Cabinet secretaries most involved have fallen in line. Wilbur Ross (Commerce) and David Bernhardt (Interior) would have us believe that the enforcement revisions will be a good thing, and won’t threaten the environment and wildlife. They “fit squarely within the president’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public,” Ross claimed, “without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals.”
Forgive us if we are not reassured.
The Trump administration’s announcement follows by a few months a United Nations report stating that human activity impacting the environment could drive into extinction one million species — yes, a million — and that, to keep greenhouse gas emissions under control, steps must be taken to protect the land and biodiversity.
“We can no longer continue to destroy the diversity of life. This is our responsibility towards future generations,” said Audrey Azoula, head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. “Following the adoption of this historic report, no one will be able to claim that they did not know.”
Which is worse: To not know, or to knowingly inflict further harm to the environment?
As environmental groups prepare legal challenges to relaxed enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, tri-state residents should convey their concerns to their federal lawmakers.