Official defends Trump plan to revamp Endangered Species Act

WASHINGTON (AP) — A top Trump administration official is rejecting claims by environmental groups that a plan to revamp the Endangered Species Act would "gut" crucial protections for threatened animals and plants.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt dismissed the criticism as "laughable," adding that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and other officials "respect the law" and know the law.

Bernhardt told an audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation on Monday that the Obama administration too often "strayed" from the law to focus solely on species protection, without regard for costs to land owners or businesses.

He says changes proposed in July will result in more effective, quicker decisions on species protection. Conservatives have long complained that the 45-year-old law hinders drilling, logging and other activities while failing to restore endangered species to unprotected status.