By Jacob Carter, Union of Concerned Scientists
The Trump administration is no stranger to attacking protections for endangered species, the implementation of the process by which endangered species are afforded protections by the federal government, the science underpinning that process, or the piece of legislation that spells all of these processes out and has resounding bipartisan support (i.e., the Endangered Species Act). And there are lots of endangered species at risk of losing their much-needed protections such as the American burying beetle, Chinook salmon, and (still) the polar bear. This is all happening as scientists continue to provide evidence that Earth is currently experiencing a sixth major extinction event.
So, what’s the latest attack? The Trump administration is allowing a mining company to determine whether their actions would harm endangered species. Spoiler alert: it’s very likely that their actions will harm endangered species. I literally couldn’t make this up if I tried.
Apparently, conflicts of interest CAN get worse
The Trump administration is also no stranger to allowing individuals who have conflicts of interest serve as senior leaders in the government. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt reportedly has so many conflicts of interest that he carries a card that lists them all. Bernhardt is not the only leader with conflicts of interests, there is a cadre of senior leaders who oversee the implementation of rules and regulations for the very industries that they have lobbied for in the past.
This mining company writing a government report takes this conflict of interest thing to a whole new level. It’d be like letting the tobacco industry conduct their own analyses on whether their products cause cancer. It’d be like letting the fossil fuel industry conduct their own analyses determining whether greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change. It’d be like letting your eight-year-old child determine whether they go to school for the day or not. But this is exactly what’s happening—the U.S. Forest Service is allowing the Midas Gold mining company to lead analyses and an official U.S. government report (called a biological assessment) to determine whether their own actions will harm endangered species in the area.
Hmmmm…I wonder what their results will look like? Please note the extreme sarcasm in the prior sentence.
The PAW and FIN Conservation Act
In addition to the new crazy conflict of interest issue, the Trump administration also recently changed the process by which our government decides to list, or not list, a species as endangered. This is important because if a species is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, the government works to conserve the species. This process to list a species, or not, as endangered has been solely based on the best available science for over 45 years. But the Trump administration changed this implementation process, allowing economic considerations and making it nearly impossible for federal scientists to consider the effects of climate change in these decisions, which you can read about more here. I think it’s also noteworthy to mention that the Trump administration has listed the smallest number of endangered species compared to the prior administrations of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush.
Therefore, a large coalition of conservation groups recently sent a letter to Congress asking them to support the PAW and FIN Conservation Act, which would restore many of the vital protections for endangered species that the Trump administration dismantled. The legislation would bring science back to the forefront of these important decisions and would ensure that species are protected from the future effects of climate change.
Extinction is forever—we don’t get a second change to save a species once it’s gone. That means that all the benefits that species provided to our world are lost forever as well. Most of the public certainly knows this as polls show Americans overwhelmingly support the Endangered Species Act.
Bottom line is we’re in the midst of a mass extinction event and protection our biodiversity is incredibly beneficial for the world—we don’t have time for these shenanigans.