AWI Applauds Removal of Anti-ESA Provisions from Defense Bill

Photo from Flickr by Alan Krakauer

Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) applauds the members of Congress who successfully worked to remove anti-wildlife riders from the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The version of this bill that passed the House included attacks on both the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Fortunately, during the NDAA conference, the anti-ESA riders were stripped from the final language; a provision that threatened to harm marine mammals, however, resulted in a compromise.

“The National Defense Authorization Act is intended to lay out a budget for the Department of Defense, not to be a vehicle for riders that could devastate species in need of protection,” said Cathy Liss, president of AWI. “The anti-Endangered Species Act riders would have not only imperiled the survival of vulnerable species, but also undercut the law by eliminating science-based decision-making with regard to species conservation. We are grateful to the conferees and other members of Congress who worked diligently to remove needless attacks on the ESA.

“Further, we are grateful that conferees rejected a House provision, which would have permitted the Navy to conduct activities in US waters for 10 years without evaluating their impact on marine mammals,” Liss added. “However, the final language, extending the authorization period from five to seven years, is a compromise.”

The anti-ESA riders in the House version would have prevented the US Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the greater sage-grouse and the lesser prairie-chicken under the ESA for the next 10 years. Further, it would have immediately removed protections for the American burying beetle. It also would have blocked judicial review, meaning that citizens would not have been able to challenge any of these actions in court.

The House NDAA bill would have amended the MMPA to double the current time period the Navy may conduct activities in US waters without undergoing any environmental review or assessment of potential harm to marine mammals. Allowing these activities to continue unchecked for 10 years would have subjected marine mammals and their habitat to unacceptable risk. A seven-year time period does at least have a scientific basis—as marine mammal stock assessment data become unreliable after this—but marine mammals could still suffer extensive damage during that time. The current five-year duration takes a more precautionary approach.

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