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 BarrassoAfrica's women can change a continent: Will Ivanka give them her full support? Overnight Energy: Gillibrand offers bill to ban pesticide from school lunches | Interior secretary met tribal lawyer tied to Zinke casino dispute | Critics say EPA rule could reintroduce asbestos use GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care 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 CarperDem senators launch Environmental Justice Caucus Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Koch network launches ad campaign opposing Trump's proposed gas tax 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 InhofeGOP Armed Services chair 'no longer concerned' about training for border troops Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Overnight Defense: Senators show skepticism over Space Force | Navy drops charges against officers in deadly collision | Trump taps next Navy chief 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 BoozmanDemocrats, making a difference is better than making a point GOP senators read Pence riot act before shutdown votes On The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions 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 FischerWhy America needs the ability to track enemy missiles from space GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback Dems accused of seeking revenge for 2013 vote on hurricane relief MORE (R-Neb.).