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A decadesold law credited with saving the American bald eagle from extinction would be reworked under a proposal President Donald Trump's administration announced Thursday.

Enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, which seeks to prevent plants and animals from becoming extinct, would be changed to make it easier to remove species from the list of protected ones. The proposal also makes changes that speed the approval process that federal agencies are required to complete before making changes that could harm endangered species, and would weaken protections for critical habitat.

"We are proposing these improvements to produce the best conservation results for the species while reducing the regulatory burden on the American people," Greg Sheehan, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's principal deputy director, said in a statement. "One thing we heard over and over again was that [Endangered Species Act] implementation was not consistent and often times very confusing to navigate."

The effort underscores the ways the Trump administration is moving to change bedrock environmental laws in a manner long sought by industry. In June, the administration began the process of overhauling the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires environmental reviews on projects ranging from oil fields to highways that require a federal permit. The Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, has used industry guidance documents and policy memos to dial back its oversight of air pollution under the Clean Air Act.

The Trump administration's proposals align broadly with measures being sought by Congressional Republicans.

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1973 after an environmental movement triggered by events such as a fire on Cleveland's polluted Cuyahoga River, and the public backlash over the use of insecticide DDT. It protects species like the gray wolf, grizzly bear, and spotted owl, by designating them as endangered and barring hunting of them and the destruction of their habitat. The law protects more than 1,600 plant and animal species.

While the law is opposed by many in the logging, mining, farming and oil-drilling industries, environmentalists say they consider it sacrosanct, and that changes planned by the Trump administration will likely bring lawsuits.

"The Endangered Species Act is under attack because it is so effective. It's the strongest environmental law the United States has probably ever passed," said Brett Hartl, director of government affairs for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group.

The changes, in the form of a trio of proposed rules, will be subject to public comment before they're finalized.

The proposal changes the definition of the "foreseeable future," addressing the law's requirement that in a listing decision, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service must determine whether a species is "in danger of extinction, or likely to become so within the foreseeable future."

Information for this article was contributed by Alan Kovski of Bloomberg News.

A Section on 07/20/2018

Print Headline: Proposal calls for revamping of Endangered Species Act

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