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WASHINGTON, July 30, 2018 — Records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show career staff at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service were overruled by Trump administration higher-ups working to eliminate key safeguards that implement the Endangered Species Act.
The records directly contradict public claims by U.S. Interior Department Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt that career “long-term practitioners” within the two agencies wrote the proposals that were released earlier this month for public review.
“The Trump administration continues to steamroll over the objections of expert, professional staff to advance its extreme ideological agenda,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Special interests are rewriting the rules to wipe away the protective measures that made the Endangered Species Act so successful at preventing extinction so that they can pad their bottom lines a little bit more.”
On Dec. 13 career staff met at the National Conservation Training Center along with several Trump administration political appointees to discuss changes to implementation regulations for the Endangered Species Act, according to the records.
Among the many changes that were proposed, career staff rejected some of the most egregious recommendations. Those included assessing the economic impacts from protecting an endangered species, defining the “foreseeable future” for listing decisions and including deadlines for informal consultations.
Between the Dec. 13 meeting and April 2, the two agencies completed a draft regulatory proposal, which was then sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. The proposals went through interagency review for three months before being released to the public on July 19. The Center has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the draft document submitted to the White House.
“In the Trump administration it’s disturbingly easy to imagine how something that was flat-out rejected by career staff made it into a proposed rule designed to gut 45 years of proven conservation success,” said Hartl. “The public has a right to know exactly who in the administration made these huge changes. And why.”