WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2018 — A leaked copy of President Donald Trump’s infrastructure proposal, which is expected to be announced at his State of the Union address, includes dozens of attacks on environmental safeguards, including six provisions that would gut critical provisions of the Endangered Species Act.
Trump’s proposal would deny imperiled plants and animals lifesaving protections by delaying their listing as endangered species, slowing safeguards for their critical habitat and decreasing citizen participation. The proposal would likely cause the extinction of hundreds of imperiled species.
“Trump’s proposal would dig a graveyard for our most imperiled wildlife and bury America’s natural heritage,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We can and should restore our infrastructure without this reckless scheme to let corporate polluters annihilate endangered animals and contaminate our air and water.”
Below is the Center’s analysis of the provisions in the proposal that would attack the Endangered Species Act:
Section 3111: Clarify That Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives Do Not Trigger NEPA Analysis
Under the Endangered Species Act, Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives (RPAs) are required when the Fish and Wildlife Service concludes that a project would jeopardize the existence of endangered species. These are the measures wildlife experts believe are critical to preventing extinction. By diminishing the relevance of RPAs in the larger environmental analysis required by NEPA, this provision would put at risk whether a project is modified to avoid causing the extinction of endangered species.
Section 3112: Create a More Efficient Process for Listing and Delisting Species
This provision would eliminate the deadlines for taking actions to protect imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act, allowing the Fish and Wildlife Service to set its own schedule for taking action. Over the past 40 years, nearly 50 species have gone extinct while waiting for protection under the Act, including most recently in 2017, when the beaverpond marstonia snail was declared extinct. The Fish and Wildlife Service is already behind the deadlines for more than 400 species due to political interference and funding shortfalls instigated by Republican politicians. The Trump administration purposefully missed dozens of deadlines for endangered species protections in 2017. If this proposal were to be adopted, hundreds of imperiled species would likely go extinct.
Section 3113: Allow Delegation of Authority for Section 10 Habitat Conservation Process to the States
This proposal would allow states to write their own conservation plans regarding how to mitigate the harms of their own activities, effectively putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. Most state fish-and-game agencies are woefully underfunded and understaffed, which is the primary reason wildlife continues to decline across the United States. Allowing states to take over this process would undermine the integrity of the most important provisions that helps put endangered wildlife on a road to recovery, and would effectively turn the Section 10 HCP process into a meaningless rubber stamp for project approvals.
Section 3114: Allow Agencies to Issue Incidental Take Permits During Informal Consultations When a Project Is Not Likely to Adversely Affect Species
This recommendation suggests the Trump administration is ignorant about the actual implementation of the Endangered Species Act. Under existing law, if a project is “not likely to adversely affect” endangered species, then no Incidental Take Permit is required because no take has occurred. Only when a project is likely to adversely affect endangered species — it will cause take — is an Incidental Take Permit required. But the possible motivation of this recommendation may be to undermine the scientific foundation of the Endangered Species Act by pressuring career scientists to conclude that no harm is being caused from a project when in fact the opposite is true, and to turn the consultation process into a meaningless rubber stamp for development.
Section 3115: Ensure Fair Treatment of Conservation Actions in Listing and Delisting Decisions
This proposal would require the Fish and Wildlife Service to automatically assume that voluntary, non-binding conservation measures will be implemented when deciding whether to list and protect imperiled wildlife under the Endangered Species Act. Rather than “trust, but verify,” this proposal would force the agency to assume that a voluntary conservation project will be implemented, even if there is no guarantee that it will be. The Fish and Wildlife Service already has numerous policies designed to properly incentivize voluntary conservation. This proposal would undermine good-faith conservation, while rewarding those that game the system to ram through development at the expense of wildlife and habitat.
Section 3116: Extending the Timing of Critical Habitat Designations
This proposal would delay the designation of critical habitat until one year after the final
approval of a species’ recovery plan. Under current law critical habitat must be designated no later than one year after a species is protected under the Endangered Species Act. In contrast, there is no deadline for the completion of a species’ recovery plan under the Act. This provision would cynically delay the designation of critical habitat and create a perverse incentive to never complete a recovery plan for any listed species ever again.