GOP lawmakers: Administration shouldn't use climate change to justify endangered species

In December, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposed that 12 species should be considered endangered and 54 classified as threatened.

An agency review team found that "ocean warming and related impacts of climate change have already created a clear and present threat to many corals," and NOAA added that those climate change threats "pose the greatest potential extinction risk to corals and have been assessed with sufficient certainty out to the year 2100."

Hastings, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Vitter, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works panel, take issue with that rationale.

In the letter to acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, they write, "this sweeping proposal would set dangerous precedents under the guise of addressing climate change to force expansive new regulation on a host of future actions related to these listings and critical habitat designations."

They add, "Proposing to list dozens of species covering millions of ocean miles based on perceived future harms with dubious scientific justification simply does not pass the straight face test."

The lawmakers also complained that the action seemed like a case of so-called "sue and settle," in which regulatory action is developed via court settlement.

Vitter and Hastings claim that "this proposal appears designed more to respond to arbitrary deadlines set by closed-door settlements with litigious environmental groups than it does to ensure it is based on sound science."

Republicans and business groups have warned that the practice is especially common for declaring species endangered. They allege that environmental organizations will take federal agencies to court for missing regulatory deadlines or requirements, then behind closed doors will develop rushed timelines to evaluate whether to add creatures to the endangered species list.

The NOAA proposal to list the coral as endangered came after the Center for Biological Diversity filed three notices to sue the agency if it ignored its petition to reclassify the species.