House passes bill to amend Endangered Species Act

The House passed legislation Tuesday that would modify the Endangered Species Act.

Passed 233-190, the bill would require federal agencies to publish data they use to determine whether a species should be designated as "endangered" or merely "threatened."

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It would also direct the federal government to provide states with data used to make a decision on an endangered species before it issues a final ruling.

Additionally, the measure would require the Interior Department to report annually to Congress on the amount of money and staff spent on lawsuits related to enforcing the Endangered Species Act, which has been in place since 1973.

Republicans said that making the data publicly available would result in a more transparent process.

"We need to make sure before we make some of these decisions that we have the facts," said Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas). "When you're dealing with the facts, then I think we're going to have better outcomes."

But Democrats said the changes would only slow down the process of designating whether species are endangered.

"These bills will instead increase the amount of red tape," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

Before final passage, the House rejected an amendment 204-215 from Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) that would eliminate a provision automatically defining data submitted by state, local or tribal governments as the "best available science."

Democrats said that provision ignored the merits of the data.

"The quality of the information that state, tribal and local governments submit is irrelevant under this bill," said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). 

But Republicans said the Democratic amendment would prevent any data from being available altogether. 

"My colleagues keep fighting the transparency," Neugebauer said.

The Obama administration issued a veto threat against the measure due to concerns about the "best available" data provision and requiring agencies to post all data used in listing determinations.

"The administration strongly opposes H.R. 4315, which is a bill that would rigidly constrain science, public input, and data in making Endangered Species Act (ESA) determinations," the White House said in a statement of administration policy.

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