The Trump administration announced an overhaul Monday to the Endangered Species Act it said would reduce regulations. Environmentalists say the changes will push more animals and plants to extinction.

The changes end blanket protections for animals newly deemed threatened and allow authorities for the first time to take into account the economic cost of protecting a particular species. Allowing economic factors to be considered when making species-saving decisions could provide oil, gas and mining companies a clearer path to development, critics say.

The Endangered Species Act protects more than 1,600 species in the U.S. and its territories. The act has helped save the bald eagle, California condor, the grizzly bear, the manatee and dozens of other animals and plants from extinction since President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1973.

A United Nations report warned in May that more species – as many as 1 million plants and animals – are threatened with extinction now than at any other time in human history because of development, climate warming and other threats. Earth Day Network says the changes will speed up that process by rolling back protection and weakening one of the best tools for preventing extinction in the last half century.

The changes make it harder to designate habitats for threatened and endangered species, likely shrinking livable areas for these species, Earth Day Network says, and they ignore effects like climate change when determining species’ protection status.

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md., a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, condemned the Department of the Interior’s proposed changes.

“The new regulations finalized (Monday) that weaken vital sections of the Endangered Species Act serve as yet another example of the Trump Administration ignoring the interests of Marylanders. In the Fish and Wildlife Service’s most recent report estimating the economic role of national wildlife refuge recreational visitation, the contribution of recreational spending in local Maryland communities was associated with about 3,719 jobs, $123.95 million in employment income, $34.8 million in total tax revenue, and $399.4 million in economic output,” he said in a statement.

He called on his colleagues in Congress to reject amendments hidden in “must-pass” bills that would undermine the Endangered Species Act.

“The Endangered Species Act, which is helping to recover the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel in Maryland, continues to be one of our country’s most popular and successful environmental laws,” Cardin said, vowing to fight the changes.

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said, "For decades, the Endangered Species Act has protected our most vulnerable wildlife. Trump’s decision to tear up this law is unconscionable. Once again, it’s big business and special interests over the well-being of our environment and our country. Speak out and fight back."

For more than 45 years, the Endangered Species Act has saved several of America’s most important species, helping save 99 percent of its listed species from extinction.

Scientists predict that half of all species will face extinction by the end of the century.

Contact your representatives in the House and Senate and urge them to act against these changes and support our wildlife.

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