The Trump administration's announcement that it would break with convention in how it interpreted the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to include an evaluation of the economic effects of proposed mitigation efforts was widely – and appropriately – decried by environmental groups. They noted that with climate change, more species were facing extinction and need the same regulatory protection that helped save the bald eagle, the California condor and the grizzly bear.
In a fresh sign that President Donald Trump rejects the massive evidence that global warming is a real risk, the new rules limit regulators from considering climate change as a factor in whether to classify a species as endangered because the rules permit discretion in interpreting a species' "foreseeable future."
In existence since 1973, the ESA has been the subject of scrutiny before. It was arguably exploited by the Obama administration, which circumvented requirements that new rules be subject to public review by encouraging environmental groups to sue the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA would then quickly accept settlements that imposed new limits on local governments and property owners – with no public input. The Trump administration rightly stopped this practice in 2017. His administration's new approach, though, is potentially a far worse abuse of executive authority than anything done by the EPA under prior presidents. That it is being cheered by business interests doesn't make it any less radical.
The environmental movement used to have strong bipartisan support – the EPA and ESA began under Republican President Richard Nixon. Yet GOP support has faded over the decades, especially under the George W. Bush administration and now even more so under Trump. This would be a sad development in any historical context. But for this polarization to accelerate when the planet faces its gravest environmental threat isn't just unfortunate. It's dangerous.