WASHINGTON (AP) - The Trump administration on Monday rolled out some of the broadest changes in decades to enforcement of the landmark Endangered Species Act, allowing the government to put an economic cost on saving a species and other changes critics contend could speed extinction for some struggling plants and animals.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and other administration officials contend the changes improve efficiency of oversight , while protecting rare species.
“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal - recovery of our rarest species,” he said in a statement. “An effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”
Democratic lawmakers, several state attorneys generals and conservation groups said the overhaul would hamper protections for endangered and threatened species.
The Endangered Species Act is credited with helping save the bald eagle, California condor and scores of other animals and plants from extinction since President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1973. The Endangered Species Act currently protects more than 1,600 species in the United States and its territories.
The changes included allowing economic cost to taken into account as the federal government weighs protecting a struggling species, although Congress has stipulated that economic costs not be a factor in deciding whether to protect an animal. That prohibition was meant to ensure that the logging industry, for example, would not be able to push to block protections for a forest-dwelling animal on economic grounds.
Gary Frazer, an assistant director at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told reporters that the government would adhere to that by disclosing the costs to the public, without being a factor for the officials considering the protections.