GOP accuses feds of bad science in endangered species studies

Congressional Republicans are accusing the Obama administration of using a flawed and opaque peer review process when determining whether species are endangered and should be protected.

In a report issued Monday, Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee said multiple listing processes show that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) doesn’t effectively weed out peer reviewers with conflicts of interest.

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The agency sometimes uses peer reviewers who wrote the studies they review, and it doesn’t always disclose reviewers’ names or their comments, the GOP charged.

The findings are more urgent following a 2011 settlement the Obama administration made with conservation groups, agreeing to study whether more than 250 species need protection under the Endangered Species Act, Republicans said.

“This report raises troubling concerns about the lack of independence of the peer review process and whether many current, upcoming or recently finalized listing decisions, such as the White Bluffs Bladderpod in my Central Washington district, are scientifically sound,” Rep. Doc HastingsRichard (Doc) Norman HastingsCongress just resolved a 20-year debate over Neolithic remains Boehner hires new press secretary GOP plots new course on Endangered Species Act reform MORE (R-Wash.), chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.

“With hundreds of ESA listings driven by this administration’s closed-door settlements with litigious groups, discovery of any potential bias about how ESA data and science are reviewed casts serious doubt on the credibility of these decisions, and provides more evidence that the ESA needs continued oversight and updating,” he continued.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), who will be the Natural Resources Committee’s top Democrat next year, accused the GOP of writing a politically motivated report.

“This is a part of a political strategy,” he said. “It has nothing to do with science.”

He said the report was “done behind closed doors by Republicans on the committee, no overture of trying to work this out in a bipartisan way, no competing points of view, no consultation with the administration.”

Grijalva the Obama administration’s analysis for endangered species, saying it’s “based on good science,” with ample peer review and public involvement opportunities.

The FWS also defended its work.

“Independent peer review is an important part of any scientific endeavor, and for that reason, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a policy in 1994 to solicit independent peer review of proposed listing determinations,” said FWS Spokesman Gavin Shire said in a statement.

“Our peer review process is fully compliant with the information quality guidelines established by [Office of Management and Budget].”

The report came at the end of a year in which House Republicans have focused significant efforts on reforming the Endangered Species Act to give more power to states and landowners, while making some parts steps in the species listing process harder for federal officials.

The efforts culminated in July when the House passed a bill to require that FWS publish all the data behind new listings, give states the chance to protect species before a federal listing and require annual reports to Congress on settlements related to endangered species.

— This story was updated at 5:40 p.m.