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A sea otter in Homer, Alaska. Sea otters are listed as threatened on the Endangered Species List. Photo: Raffi Maghdessian/Getty

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency and NOAA proposed sweeping changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on Thursday.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce protections for at-risk plants and animals, and make it easier to delist species.

Key takeaways: The proposal limits consultation between agencies in cases where federal activity could harm a species.

  • It makes it easier to remove plants and animals from the list of protected species.
  • The proposal adds regulatory hurdles to the process of designating a critical habitat.
  • The changes would no longer apply blanket critical-habitat policies, allowing for certain areas where it is not "prudent" to avoid that designation.
  • It alters the process that federal agencies must abide by to make changes that can harm endangered species.

The big picture: The ESA, put in place during the Nixon administration, is responsible for saving species including the grizzly bear, the blue whale and the bald eagle. It could be especially critical moving forward as habitats for all wildlife face threats due to expanding infrastructure and climate change.

  • The ESA identifies threatened species and ecosystems with the ultimate goal of "recovering" species so that they can flourish without the act's protection. It prevents development in critical habitats and the "taking" of a listed species without a permit. There are currently 1,661 threatened and endangered species on the ESA that live in the U.S.

A recent study from Ohio State University examined whether the act is considered as controversial by the public as it is in government bodies, where Republicans have long criticized it. They found that 74% of conservatives, 77% of moderates, and 90% of liberals favor the act as it stands.

What's next: The full changes will be published in coming days in the Federal Register, at which time public comment will open for a 60-day period.

Go deeper

Airlines call for Biden admin's "immediate intervention" in 5G deployment

Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The CEOs of leading U.S. air cargo and passenger carriers on Monday warned the Biden administration there could be "catastrophic disruption" after AT&T and Verizon deploy a new 5G service this week.

Driving the news: They said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other top federal officials ahead of the C-Band 5G service's deployment Wednesday that "the nation's commerce will grind to a halt" and "could potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas."

Updated 3 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

5 hours ago - Health

CDC director says COVID-19 messaging should have been clearer

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic and changing guidance should have been clearer.

State of play: Walensky is being coached by media experts and is planning to have more press briefings by herself in order to ensure that CDC is seen as an independent, scientific entity, rather than as a political one, the Journal reports.