GOP proposes facelift for endangered species law

A House GOP working group is putting forward a slate of ideas for overhauling the nation's endangered species law.

House Republicans held a number of hearings last year on the law and complained that the Obama administration was using "political science" to justify adding new plants and animals to the endangered species list.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), the chairman of the Natural Resources Committe, in December announced the formation of a working group that would explore possible reforms to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which was signed into law by President Nixon.

On Tuesday, Hastings and Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) plan to release a 64-page report on the working group's efforts. The Hill received an early copy of the report, which Lummis said does not amount to a comprehensive proposal for overhauling the law.

"We would like an overarching goal to get away from the litigation model and toward a more 21st century labor model," Lummis told The Hill in an interview on Monday evening, prior to the report's release.

"We just want to take baby steps to address issues," Lummis said.

One of the proposals mentioned in the report is a bill sponsored by Lummis that seeks to make the process for listing species on the list more transparent.

Lummis said she expects the bill will pass the Judiciary Committee during a markup on Wednesday.

The bill, H.R. 2919 or Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act, would reinstate tracking and reporting requirements of federal agencies.

Lummis said she talked with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in December about the bill. Cantor was open to bringing it to the floor, but whether it will happen this year is up in the air, she said.

The report also recommends recommends reigning in what they call unnecessary litigation tactics used by green groups to challenge the federal government on listing species.

Lummis was referring to lawsuits conservation groups have filed after federal agencies miss their deadlines to review whether species should be added to the endangered species list.

Critics say the process, sometimes known as “sue and settle,” allows environmental groups to force agencies to speed up their reviews.

"We want to make it  so the ESA is more usable with an emphasis with boots on the ground conservation, Lummis told The Hill. "We shouldn't be spending money on litigation instead of on habitat conservation and species science."

Environmentalists say they simply want to force federal officials to obey the law, and are worried the GOP means to completely change the species act.

While Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) have proposed a bill that would overhaul the entire national system for protecting threatened species and their habitat, Lummis said that isn't what the House working group aims to do.

Key recommendations in the report include ensuring greater transparency and prioritization of the law, reducing litigation and settlement reform, and empowering states on endangered species decisions that affect them.

"We don't want to throw the ESA overboard, we want to update it," Lummis said.  "And measure success in a way that recovers species instead of adding species to the list."