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How Trump plans to change the Endangered Species Act

November 20, 2019


AMNA NAWAZ: The Trump administration is making
some of the broadest changes in years to the Endangered Species Act, the landmark law signed
by President Richard Nixon that’s been credited with
saving iconic species like the bald eagle and the grizzly bear. William Brangham explores what today’s changes
could mean. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
WILLIAM BRANGHAM, PBS NEWSHOUR CORRESPONDENT: That’s right, Amna. The Endangered
Species Act currently protects about 1,600 species in the U.S. by limiting the activities
that could harm those species. And it’s been overwhelmingly successful in
protecting those plants and animals. But the act has been a target for Republican
lawmakers and industry groups for years. They argue these
protections cost too many jobs and too much money. Now, the Trump administration is proposing
changes that one Democratic lawmaker referred to as
taking a wrecking ball to the act. Joining me now is “New York Times” environmental
reporter Lisa Friedman. Lisa Friedman, welcome back to the “NewsHour”. LISA FRIEDMAN, ENVIRONMENTAL REPORTER, THE
NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks so much for having me. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Before we get to the administration’s
proposed changes, what can we say — what species can we credit are alive today
because of the Endangered Species Act? LISA FRIEDMAN: The Endangered Species Act
has helped to save from extinction some of the most
well-known plant and animal species in the country, the bald eagle, the grizzly bear,
the humpback whale, are all species that owe a tremendous amount
to the protection of the Endangered Species Act. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: As I mentioned before, the
Republican lawmakers for decades have hated this
law, wanted to dial it back. Industry groups said the same, saying it’s
too costly, it’s not really helping as much as it is hurting our industries. What is the Trump administration proposing
with these new changes? LISA FRIEDMAN: There are a number of changes
in the final rules that were issued today. A number of
them are ones that environmental groups fear will severely weaken protections for plant
and animal species. I list just two of the big ones for now. One of them is a measure that would weaken
the ability of scientists to protect species against the threats of
climate change. Another is a phrase that would introduce the
ability of the federal government to include economic
analysis. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: An analysis, meaning if
we’re going to protect X species that might cost us Y
amount of money. LISA FRIEDMAN: Absolutely right. Currently, the way the law reads, scientists
can only consider one thing when they’re deciding whether or not
to list species as threatened or endangered, the science. Is it
threatened? Should it be listed? That language is going to be eliminated, and
what replaces it will give the federal government the ability to
conduct analyses just as you described to find out whether listing a species will cost
money, will cost money and perhaps lost development. The Interior Department has insisted that
this won’t change anything, that decisions will still be made
purely on the basis of science. They just want to have the
information and be able to know the information when these listing possibilities come up. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: These changes are coming
amidst a lot of news about endangered species. We
saw the U.N. a few months ago put out this report indicating that upwards of a million
plant and animal species globally could be threatened if we
don’t change our ways. LISA FRIEDMAN: Yes. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Help me understand what
the administration is arguing here. Are they saying,
here in the U.S., we are doing endangered species just fine or are they saying we can
do it in a better way? What are they arguing? LISA FRIEDMAN: Yes. I think, you know, what we heard from the
administration is it’s possible to both be stewards of the environment while also
cutting red tape, and their argument is that that is what they’re
doing with this regulation today. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Is there a sense that if
these changes go through, any particular species that
might be impacted? LISA FRIEDMAN: You know, one of the ones we
hear about a lot are species that are affected by climate
change and, you know, one that comes to mind easily is the polar bear. The polar bear habitat is going to
be affected dramatically by climate change. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Their sea ice and their
habitat disappears year after year. LISA FRIEDMAN: Exactly. Some of these changes are far into the future. Whether this new regulation
hamstrings scientists’ ability to take action to protect these species is something that
the environmental groups are very worried about. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We know these are proposed
rules, probably going to be some lawsuits, right? What’s the future look like? LISA FRIEDMAN: Today, we heard from the attorneys
general of Massachusetts and California, they have vowed to sue. Senator Udall, who you mentioned, said that
he’s going to be looking at legislative measures to block this in Congress. It seems with the makeup of this Congress,
it’s going to be very hard to pass anything that would block this legislatively. So, I think the — some of these questions
about whether this regulation will stand the test of time
are going to be answered in the courts. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Lisa Friedman of “The New
York Times,” thank you. LISA FRIEDMAN: Thank you.

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