GOP considers ways to ‘modernize’ endangered species law

GOP considers ways to ‘modernize’ endangered species law

Senate Republicans considered ideas Wednesday to “modernize” the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and solve the problems they and their constituents have long decried.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoThis week: GOP seeks to advance tax overhaul Dissent is democratic: Stop calling McCain, Corker, Flake RINOs The farm bill presents a chance to lighten the regulatory burden of farmers MORE (R-Wyo.) said at the hearing that he hopes to change the law to give more voice to landowners, industry groups and others who think species protections hamper businesses and other land uses.

For the first time in years, the GOP controls both chambers of Congress and the White House, affording lawmakers a potential opportunity to change what for decades has been a bedrock environmental law. 

But the GOP lawmakers sought to clarify repeatedly that they support the goals of the ESA and want also to improve how it saves threatened plant and animals species.

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“The Endangered Species Act isn’t working today. We should all be concerned when the Endangered Species Act fails to work,” Barrasso said. “States, counties, wildlife managers, homebuilders, construction companies, farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders are all making it clear that the Endangered Species Act is not working today.”

He said that less than 3 percent of species designated as endangered or threatened — a process that implements numerous land use restrictions and other standards — have recovered enough to be taken off the list.

“As a doctor, if I admit 100 patients to the hospital, and only three recover enough under my treatment to be discharged, I would deserve to lose my medical license,” he said.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperSenate confirms top air regulator at EPA Senate panel delays vote on Trump’s Homeland Security pick Overnight Energy: Senators grill Trump environmental pick | EPA air nominee heads to Senate floor | Feds subpoena ex-Trump adviser over biofuels push MORE (Del.), the panel’s top Democrat and the only one able to ask questions due to a party caucus meeting, did not completely rule out changes to the ESA.

But he warned that the law’s purpose must remain, and he would prefer to implement policies that have bipartisan consensus, something few of the Senate GOP’s ideas enjoy.

“We should also keep in mind its purpose: to prevent the extinction of species and to do our best to restore those at risk,” he said. “I, for one, am reluctant to do anything to compromise the successes we have achieved.”

The Environment Committee’s Republican members brought up numerous problems they have with the way the ESA is structured. They said the law doesn’t sufficiently account for state opinions, unnecessarily restricts the use of private land, and enables environmental groups to sue the federal government to get a species listed and then get attorneys’ fees back from the government.

“The landowners want a pristine environment, the same as you might see from another perspective,” said Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeMcCain backs Pentagon nominee despite concerns over defense industry ties GOP senators ask Trump for meeting on biofuels mandate Trump feuds endangering tax reform MORE (R-Okla.) "And it’s easy to sit in Washington and talk about everything’s working well. When you’re out in the states, that’s where you have problems.”

Inhofe said the main problems with the law are that stakeholders, landowners and states are ignored and de-listing is rare.

Other Republicans piled on.

“Myself, and many others, as we have heard today, have grown concerned that the Endangered Species Act, at times, has been implemented in a manner that harms Arkansas families, farmers, businesses and communities, with disputable benefits at times to wildlife,” said Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanLobbying World The Hill's Whip List: Republicans try again on ObamaCare repeal GOP senator undergoing follow-up surgery next week MORE (R-Ark.).

“I think it is clear that better engagement is necessary, that we have to have that engagement with landowners in order to address the deficiencies many of us feel are within the ESA,” said Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerDissent is democratic: Stop calling McCain, Corker, Flake RINOs GOP senators fear bill will be cast as gift to rich GOP plans tax blitzkrieg MORE (R-Neb.).