GOP senators assail wildlife agency's 'troubling' work on climate change

Inhofe called it “troubling to say the least.” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) also raised the issue and cited his legislation that would block federal agencies from regulating greenhouse gases, or taking climate into account when implementing laws such as the Endangered Species Act.

“Did Congress intend these environmental laws to be climate tools or did they not?” Barrasso asked.

Ashe defended the service’s work on climate change, noting that the agency has authority to consider climatic threats to species even though he agreed Congress wasn’t considering climate change when it crafted the main environmental laws decades ago.

“I think it is particularly important ... that we understand the impacts and the effects of a changing climate system on fish and wildlife resources,” said Ashe, who played a key role in the development of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s climate strategy.

And he’s got backing from committee Democrats. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) cited the dominant view among scientists that climate change is occurring and human activities are a major cause.

Whitehouse called it a “risky proposition” and “something the executive branch does well to attend to,” and said it’s a mistake to argue that the administration can’t “respond to reality” without new authorization from Congress.

“There are times when Congress represents the will of very powerful vested interests,” Whitehouse said.

The wildlife service is not empowered to impose rules to limit emissions — that’s EPA’s purview. But its work nonetheless has a nexus with climate change as it seeks to protect species threatened by rising temperatures and, in the case of polar bears, melting sea ice.

But Republicans and other oil-and-gas drilling advocates fear that actions under the Endangered Species Act could hinder drilling and other development.

The wildlife service recently designated 187,000 square miles in the Arctic as “critical habitat” for polar bears threatened by disappearing sea ice, although federal officials downplayed the prospect that the new protections will affect development.

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