WH reviewing proposal on threatened species protections

The White House is reviewing a proposal that environmentalists fear would remove protections for hundreds of threatened species, according to a government database.

The proposal’s obscure name — “Removal of Blanket Section 4(d) Rule” — refers to protections covering approximately 300 animal and plant species, such as the northern spotted owl and manatee, that are at risk of becoming endangered.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has for 40 years used the blanket rule to cover the majority of threatened species, the category considered at risk of endangerment under the Endangered Species Act.

A spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service said that to suggest the rule would overturn the protections is inaccurate. But the spokesman, Gavin Shire, would not elaborate about how that characterization was incorrect or what the proposal calls for, and he declined to provide a copy of the document.

The proposal has not yet been publicly released, and Shire said it is a “draft” that is “under internal review.” He said it would be “premature” to discuss the proposal before the department releases it.

A listing in a government database shows the agency on Monday sent the proposal to the White House office that reviews proposed rules. The database entry includes only a one-line summary of the proposal.

The White House did not respond to a request from CNN to comment on the proposal.

The environmental group that noticed the database entry called the proposal “part of the larger regulatory rollback agenda of the (Trump) administration.

“This administration has more aggressively moved to roll back regulations for air, water and wildlife than any other administration,” said Noah Greenwald, who leads the endangered species project at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Greenwald said easing or removing the protections could help oil and agriculture companies who currently must avoid killing or harming the habitat of these at-risk species.

When naming a species as threatened, FWS decides whether to write specific protections for that species or cover it with the blanket rule protections. About 70 species have specific rules, and 300 are covered by the blanket rule, Greenwald said.

FWS declined to say whether it would propose new protections if it lifts the blanket rule.

“Any proposed changes will go through a full and transparent public review process that provides ample opportunity for interested parties to provide input that we will consider to help us ensure these regulations are effective in furthering the ESA’s ultimate goal — recovery of our most imperiled species to the point they no longer need federal protection,” Shire, the FWS spokesman, said in a statement.

The proposal comes amid headlines that the administration official temporarily overseeing the Fish and Wildlife Service has previously opposed protections for endangered species.

Susan Combs has been named to that assistant secretary post while awaiting Senate confirmation for a higher-ranking Interior Department job, according to a report last week by the Austin American-Statesman, a Texas newspaper that covered Combs as a state official.

The paper reported that in 2013, Combs referred to endangered species protections as “incoming Scud missiles,” and said she “clashed often” with Interior and FWS officials over the Endangered Species Act.

The Interior Department spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment on the appointment.