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US rolls back Endangered Species protections

Changes could potentially make oil and gas development easier

The Trump administration has announced changes in how it plans to implement the landmark US Endangered Species Act, weakening certain protections that could make it easier for oil and gas companies to develop land.

The changes soften requirements for designating critical habitats for endangered species while strengthening requirements for considering commercial impact to determine whether a species should be listed as endangered or threatened.

The revisions are part of President Donald Trump's agenda to prop up industries including the nation's fossil fuel business by rolling back environmental protections. The administration last year started cutting back rules that would reduce methane emissions at new oil and gas well sites, and more recently said it would appeal a court decision to strike down Trump's plan to offer more acreage to drilling that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had placed off limits.

In a release on Monday, US Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the new rules would continue to help species to recover.

"The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation," he said.

"An effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation."

Western Energy Alliance president Kathleen Sgamma said the Endangered Species Act had become "weaponised" against developers.

"Our industry actively works to conserve species every day, but the current regulatory framework for the Endangered Species Act hinders landowners and companies from effectively protecting and recovering species," she said.

But green groups said the revisions would make it more difficult to extend protections to threatened species and make it easier for developers to build roads and pipelines through critical habitat areas.

The Sierra Club said the Act has proved effective, with 99% of animals, plants and insects protected by the law having been saved from extinction.

Groups including the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) and Earthjustice said they would fight the new rules in court.

"We are in the midst of an unprecedented extinction crisis, yet the Trump Administration is steamrolling our most effective wildlife protection law," NRDC nature programme legal director Rebecca Riley said.

"This Administration seems set on damaging fragile ecosystems by prioritising industry interests over science. We intend to fight these regulatory rollbacks so that we can preserve the natural world for generations to come."

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