EHS Administration, Regulatory Developments

Revisions to Endangered Species Act Regulations

Biden administration officials announced final regulations to allow the easier relocation of animals and plants outside of their historical habitats. This action is considered a last resort measure for species that are on the verge of extinction due to climate change.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized revisions to section 10(j) regulations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that will help improve the conservation and recovery of imperiled ESA-listed species in the coming decades, as growing impacts from climate change and invasive species cause habitats within species’ historical ranges to shift or become unsuitable,” an Agency press release says. “The prior regulations restricted the reintroduction of experimental populations to only the species’ historical range except under extreme conditions.”

Responsibility for implementing and regulating the ESA is shared between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

“Republicans in Western states — where gray wolves were reintroduced two decades ago over strong local objections — opposed the proposal,” according to the Associated Press (AP). “Officials in Montana, New Mexico and Arizona warned relocations could wreak ecological havoc as ‘invasive species’ get purposefully introduced. … Examples abound of ecological disasters caused by species introduced to new areas — from Asian carp spreading through rivers and streams across the U.S., to starlings from Europe destroying crops and driving out songbirds.”

Additional proposed ESA regulations

On June 4, 2021, the FWS and NOAA announced a plan to improve and strengthen the ESA’s implementation, and on June 22, 2023, the agencies proposed multiple rules to impact it.

The proposed regulations:

“The proposal also lets federal agencies off the hook for past harms to endangered species from things like dam or highway construction by deeming these projects part of the ‘environmental baseline,’” a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) says. “It also absolves the agencies for much of the damage caused by interrelated actions they facilitate, such as urban growth from highway expansion or increased global warming from emissions related to federal oil and gas leasing.”

“Patrick Donnelly with the Center for Biological Diversity said he was concerned the rule could be abused to allow habitat destruction to make way for development,” the AP article continues.

Environmentalists argue for the sacrifice of economic development for the sake of the environment, while industry interests claim it’s unacceptable to sacrifice jobs and economic growth to protect habitats and species.

It’s an age-old battle marked by a win-lose mentality.

“There are specific benefits of conserving species and maintaining species diversity, which can be thought of as ‘values,’” a Federal Emergency Management Agency article notes. “These values include three types of benefits: consumptive (e.g., harvesting, fishing, medicine), non-consumptive (e.g., wildlife viewing, ecosystem balance, ecotourism, cultural heritage), and non-use (e.g., species existence).”

A simple fungus provided penicillin, and hundreds of chemicals used in other medical applications came from discoveries found in plants and animals. There are many more species still to be categorized and studied to discover molecular structures too complex for the inventions of chemists.

Wetlands serve as natural filtration systems, and many plants serve to remove, transfer, stabilize, and destroy soil and sediment contaminants.

“The [ESA] protects about 1,600 plants and animals,” according to a Yahoo Finance article. “This piece of legislation enhances our ecosystems, provides clean drinking water, and generates a significant amount of money. That money is referred to by economists as ‘ecosystem services,’ usually totaling about $1.6 trillion each year. Besides the trillions of dollars these species help to bring in, they also prevent crop contamination, contribute to powerful medications and attract crowds of people every year through tourism.”

Many analysts agree that the best course of action is to move away from the win-lose mentality to one that both balances economic interests and conserves the Earth’s ecosystems.

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