By Matthew Brown
The Associated Press
BILLINGS, MONT. » President Joe Biden’s administration announced Tuesday plans to cancel two environmental rollbacks under former President Donald Trump that limited habitat protections for imperiled plants and wildlife.
The proposal to drop the two Trump-era rules by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service is part of a broad effort by the Biden administration to undo regulations that Democrats and wildlife advocates say favored industry over the environment.
The designation of lands and waters as critical for the survival of vulnerable species can limit mining, oil drilling and other development. That’s made the designations a flashpoint for conflict between environmental and business interests. Industry groups and Republicans in Congress have long viewed the Endangered Species Act as an impediment to economic development. Under Trump, they successfully lobbied to weaken the law’s regulations with changes that gave added weight to economic development and other interests.
The Trump administration changes had backing from an array of industry groups that said economic impacts had not been given enough consideration in past U.S. government wildlife decisions. Those groups ranged from livestock and ranching organizations to trade associations representing oil, gas and mining interests.
Biden administration officials acknowledged in documents published to the federal register that in canceling Trump’s rules, they were adopting views that federal wildlife agencies rejected just months ago.
But the Biden administration officials said a reevaluation of the Trump policies showed them to be “problematic” because they limited the government’s ability to advance conservation by protecting areas where plants and animals are found. Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz said the proposal would bring the endangered species law “back into alignment with its original intent and purpose — protecting and recovering America’s biological heritage for future generations.”
Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman, the ranking GOP member of the House Natural Resources Committee, called Tuesday’s move a “tone deaf” reversal of needed reforms to the endangered species law.
One rule allows the government to deny habitat protections for endangered animals and plants in areas that could see greater economic benefits from development. Democratic lawmakers and wildlife advocates complained that would potentially open lands to more drilling and other activities.
The other rule provided a definition of “habitat” that critics charged would exclude locations species might need to use in the future as climate change upends ecosystems.