Rep. Dingell: Political 'bickering' imperils Endangered Species Act

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) warned that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) faced threats to its survival as the law turned 40 on Saturday.

“I am saddened to report that this cornerstone environmental law is in greater peril now than it has been in its 40-year history,” he wrote in a op-ed for the Detroit Free Press.

“I was proud to be a lead author of this important legislation,” he said, noting the law’s role in protecting bald eagles, manatees, and other species when President Nixon signed the mandate on Dec. 28, 1973. “This monumental legislation has, quite literally, saved our natural heritage."

Dingell forewarned that opposition to the law has the potential to undercut it.

“From efforts to defund the agencies that oversee its implementation, to the forces that work to find and exploit loopholes in the law to put industry profits ahead of our planet, defending the ESA will require a diligence the likes of which we have not witnessed before... sadly, partisan bickering and political agendas threaten to return us to the times when we were destroying our great natural treasures.” 

Republicans in Congress have taken measures to weaken the law, which bans the killing of endangered species and regulates the use of their habitats in an effort to protect those lands.

In November, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) introduced the Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act in both the House and Senate. The bill would allow states to opt-out of ESA regulations and would require a congressional resolution to add a new endangered species.  

“Bureaucrats in Washington should not be able to lock-up millions of acres of land and devastate entire local economies simply to avoid lawsuits from environmental organizations,” Amodei wrote in a letter soliciting co-sponsors for the bill. “Local governments should determine how best to manage their lands and have the ability to choose recovery plans that work for their state.” 

In a separate effort, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, convened a working group of Republican congressmen to work on changes to the law.

“Participants specifically highlighted the need to empower states, local governments, and private landowners to conserve species, the need for balance within the law, the importance of transparent data and science, and the need to prevent the ESA from being used as a tool for lawsuits and closed-door settlements with litigious groups,” Hastings wrote in an update on his website after a meeting with the group in October.

Hastings objects to the effect protected habitats have on economic activities like logging and farming. He has particularly fought the listing of the bladderpod flower, native to WashingtonState.

After a long battle, the plant was listed as threatened on Dec. 19, but only public lands were listed as part of its habitat, in something of a compromise.