Biden administration finalizes reversal of Trump Endangered Species Act rollback

The Biden administration on Thursday announced a finalized update to Endangered Species Act (ESA) rules that advocates say reverses some Trump administration rollbacks but fails to fully restore them.

In 2019, the Trump administration made a number of alterations to the ESA rules, including adding language to protection criteria to allow consideration of economic impacts on industry for the listing.

Earthjustice Vice President Drew Caputo called the 2019 rule an “industry wishlist” and credited the Biden administration for removing the economic impact provision, which he called “directly contrary to the spirit of the statute.”

The finalized rule also restores protections for species classified as “threatened,” a less severe category than “endangered.”

The initial proposal was issued last year and received more than 450,000 public comments.

“These revisions underscore our commitment to using all of the tools available to help halt declines and stabilize populations of the species most at-risk,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Director Martha Williams said in a statement. “We will continue to use the best-available science when implementing the ESA — including when making listing and delisting decisions, designating critical habitat, developing protective regulations for threatened species, and consulting on federal actions.”

However, Caputo noted that the ESA rule retains another provision of the 2019 version that allowed agencies to essentially disregard impacts they were not “reasonably certain” would occur. “There’s always some kind of uncertainty for a project that hasn’t happened yet,” he said.

“The Biden Administration has reversed some of the worst aspects of the Trump regulations, but it missed an opportunity to end the nightmare Donald Trump created for wildlife,” Sierra Club President and CEO Ben Jealous said in a statement. “The Biden administration needs to protect more habitat, not less. We need the administration to increase protections for biodiversity, not abandon them. The president has the power, and we need him to use it.”

Caputo noted that despite the improvements the finalized rule makes, “the species at issue here are by definition on the brink and they don’t have a lot of room for maneuver.”

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