Trump's archconservative underlings have moved forward on another one of the Republican Party's most sought-after long-term goals: gutting the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Ex-fossil fuel lobbyist David Bernhardt, now secretary of the interior, and confirmed-perjurer-slash-rich-person Wilbur Ross, now heading up the Commerce Department, enthusiastically announced the new knifing. It will boost efforts by the companies that have paid David Bernhardt money to more cheaply and quickly extract resources from threatened habitats, will boost Ross' stock portfolio, and will almost certainly lead to the more-rapid extinction of threatened species.
Which is Republicanism in a nutshell, so there you go.
There are several opaque-sounding but drastic changes that Team Trump is making. One of the most significant is the removal of the section 4(d) rule, which allows federal officials to extend some of the same protections to threatened species—those in imminent danger of becoming endangered—as it can to endangered species themselves. The goal of that rule has been to help prevent threatened species from becoming endangered species. It is now gone, by fiat.
Also gone: restrictions against considering economic impact when deciding whether a given species is in need of protection. The decision to list a species as needing protection is by law supposed to be made based on scientific analysis, without consideration of which industries will be economically sad if the contemplated protections are granted. This is an effort to curb decisions on which species to save or abandon based on which companies have in the past hired the likes of David Bernhardt and which might bring him cash in the future. The New York Times quotes U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assistant endangered species director Gary Frazer gamely piping up with the theory that economic costs will be used only for "informational" purposes and will not impinge on the science-based decisions on which species to protect, which is a fine theory that will last another 10 minutes or so before itself going by the wayside.
One of the most damaging revisions, however, is another direct frontal attack on climate science. Trump's appointees have announced a redefinition of what the phrase "foreseeable future" means. Currently, species may be determined to be threatened or endangered if extinction is possible in the foreseeable future; the new language limits that consideration to apply "only so far in the future as the Services can reasonably determine." This is meant to discourage "speculative" decisions, Frazer told the Times.
The effects of that limiting language apply most prominently, however, to determinations of which species will be most endangered by climate change. We cannot know with precision just how bad climate change will be because it is dependent on human action; swift efforts to curb worldwide carbon emissions will result in lower future temperatures and different weather patterns than more sluggish efforts or no efforts at all. If agency regulators are blocked from "speculative" estimations of which of those happens until one has already happened, the net effect is to block climate considerations completely.
Among the animals probably most at risk from this new no-speculation-about-the-future order: polar bears. Polar bears inhabit a thin slice of coastline and sea ice already being subjected to rapid and dramatic changes, but where that eventual coastline will end up—or whether there will be any significant sea ice at all—can't be known if we don't know what peak atmospheric carbon will end up being. If appointees, for example, block evaluation of northern habitats wholesale, in places such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, under the banner of Well, we can't be sure where the coastline or tundra is going to end up in 50 years so we can't really speculate on what's going to happen to the stuff living here, then climate deniers can effectively nullify most northern-climate protections in one stroke. The same goes for urban sprawl, for glacial melt, or for anything else: The opportunities for less-than-honest, science-illiterate appointees to block countlessly many new protections on the theory that we can’t know for certain what will happen in each case, perhaps after taking an “informational” look at which companies will suffer stock slumps if the protections are granted, are boundless.
So the short answer, again, is that we're boned, and once again this is something the Republican Party, not Donald Trump, has been obsessing over for decades and has been insisting upon since before the arsonist-of-the-moment ever dreamed up an entry into politics. Drill, baby, drill, and whatever happens is a problem for future Americans and future stockholders, not us.
You know. Conservatism.