Op-Ed

The Trump administration’s assault on the Endangered Species Act

BY DANIEL RUTH

TAMPA BAY TIMES

What does the Trump administration have against animals such as this Florida panther cub?
What does the Trump administration have against animals such as this Florida panther cub?

It’s not entirely an idle question. Do you have the nagging suspicion if a massive oil reserve was discovered in northern Virginia, before you could say "ExxonMobil" there would be a huge (and we mean huuuuge) derrick pumping away at Arlington National Cemetery right next to John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame?

During moments of patriotic fervor we love to indulge in the great symbols of America’s beauty. Amber waves of grain. Purple mountain majesties. The noble bald eagle. So moving. So adorable. Until they get in the way of the bottom line.

It was that noted uber liberal socialist tree-hugger President Richard Nixon who in 1973 signed into law the Endangered Species Act to protect threatened wildlife and sensitive lands from commercial incursion.

By the way, it was also that Birkenstock-wearing, pony-tailed Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency. Cue "The Internationale."And over the decades, through both Republican and Democratic control of Washington, the law essentially did what it was supposed to do. The once endangered bald eagle is thriving. Gray whale populations, which were facing extinction, are now coming back. Gray wolf packs have rebounded. But nature can be so, so irritating.

Really now, what’s the point of preserving whales and wolves and other assorted critters? They don’t vote. And they certainly can’t write checks. Utterly useless.

Perhaps that explains why the Interior and Commerce departments proposed the most sweeping changes to the Endangered Species Act in its 45 years of existence. If you are a sage grouse you might consider flying to Canada. Under the proposed guidelines, the economic impact of any provision to protect any plant and/or animal would be taken into consideration regardless if the regulation is designed to prevent extinction.

So long, peregrine falcon, it’s been good to know you.

The proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act are largely the handiwork of Washington oil, gas, mining, real estate development and ranching lobbyists, who have certainly found a friend in President Donald Trump.

Proponents of transforming the Endangered Species Act into the Florida Panther Barbecue Act have complained protecting all these free-loading wildlife creatures impinges on their ability to profit off the land to make way for another subdivision.

However, Rebecca Epanchin-Niell, an expert on the economics of the Endangered Species Act for the non-partisan Resources for the Future, told the New York Times there is no clear evidence available to determine the economic impact of the law.

Apparently, Republicans are eager to push through the revisions to the Endangered Species Act before the midterm elections just in case the GOP loses control of the House or the Senate.

So it probably doesn’t hurt that the lead Interior Department official pushing to revamp the law happens to be Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, who, before he dedicated his life to public service, was an oil industry lobbyist whose clients included the Petroleum Association of America. Whew! No conflict of interest there.

For many years, efforts to undermine the Endangered Species Act died in the Senate, where they were opposed by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.

But McCain is now battling brain cancer and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a vociferous climate change denier as well as a champion of oil and gas interests, is expected to carry the lobbyists’ water (murky though it may be) in diluting the Endangered Species Act.

Memo to the clubshell mussel: avoid Oklahoma.

Trump’s administration has set about deregulating banking rules, auto emission standards, voting rights and fair housing regulations. And now it is the northern spotted owl’s turn in the barrel.

Great, advanced nations ought to be able to do two things at once, responsibly harvest its natural resources and preserve and protect its ecosystems.

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law by a Republican president with overwhelming bipartisan support. And for nearly a half a century this was a law that worked.

Now, if you are a greater prairie chicken you should probably get your affairs in order.

For the most endangered species at risk here is the rare Potomac common sense.

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