Nine New House Bills Continue All-Out Assault on Endangered Species Act

Photo from Flickr by James Marvin Phelps

Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) strongly opposes a package of nine bills, 8 of which were introduced today by a coalition of Republican representatives, that would collectively demolish key aspects of the Endangered Species Act. These bills are reflective of the strongly anti-wildlife trend of the current Congress, from which at least 75 legislative attacks on this crucial conservation law have been launched.

“The sponsors of these nine anti-wildlife bills claim that they are ‘modernizing’ the Endangered Species Act. This term is merely a smokescreen for gutting a law that is disliked by industries seeking boundless access to land at the expense of wildlife survival,” said Cathy Liss, president of AWI. 

“They don’t want to ‘modernize’ the ESA in a way that will result in better outcomes for imperiled species,” she added. “They want to weaken the law until it can no longer shield critical habitat from unfettered development.”

Here is a summary of the bills:

  • LIST Act (Rep. Biggs, R-AZ): Streamlines the existing process to de-list species in order to expedite removal of protections for imperiled species. The bill would also restrict citizens from submitting listing petitions if they had previously submitted inaccurate species data in a lawsuit.
  • EMPOWERS Act (Rep. Pearce, R-NM): Shifts much of the authority for protecting imperiled species under the ESA from the federal government to the states, even though state and local communities are already consulted extensively by federal agencies tasked with enforcing the ESA.
  • LOCAL Act (Rep. Tipton, R-CO): Prioritizes volunteer conservation efforts at the expense of ESA regulatory actions implemented by the federal government.
  • PETITION Act (Rep. Westerman, R-AR): Allows the US Fish and Wildlife Service to throw out listing petitions awaiting action when they determine there is a “backlog” of petitions.
  • LAMP Act (Rep. Young, R-AK): Shifts some power for protecting imperiled species under the ESA from the federal government to states, tribes and local governments, each of which is already consulted on ESA implementation and has significantly fewer resources to protect species.
  • PREDICTS Act (Rep. Norman, R-SC): Prohibits expert wildlife agencies from revoking a permit held by a private entity that allows for harm to protected species.
  • WHOLE Act (Rep. Johnson, R-LA): Allows federal agencies to approve a project that may jeopardize threatened or endangered species or their critical habitat if other current or proposed protections exist to improve that species’ habitat elsewhere.
  • STORAGE Act (Rep. Gosar, R-AZ): Prevents water infrastructure areas, such as reservoirs, from being included in a critical habitat designation for a listed species.
  • Endangered Species Transparency and Reasonableness Act (Rep. McClintock, R-CA): Redefines “best available science” by mandating the inclusion of state, tribal and local data—regardless of its quality—in ESA listing decisions. The bill also restricts citizens’ access to courts by placing unreasonably low caps on attorney’s fees that can be recovered by a successful plaintiff in an ESA lawsuit. This would make it difficult to recruit skilled counsel. 

Individually and together, these bills would impose damaging and unnecessary revisions to the remarkably successful and popular ESA, and undermine the government’s ability to protect imperiled species. The proposed legislation follows a draft bill released by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) on July 2, which would similarly undermine the federal government’s ability to implement the ESA effectively. Barrasso’s bill is scheduled for a hearing July 17.

“Congress has a long list of pressing issues to address. Writing nine pieces of legislation that could increase the risk of species’ extinction is antithetical to the interests of the majority of Americans who support wildlife protection and is surely a waste of Congress’ valuable time,” said Liss. “They should worry more about the other items on their to-do list, and less about dismantling wildlife protections.”

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Photo from Flickr by James Marvin Phelps