Western lawmakers introduce bills to amend Endangered Species Act

Western lawmakers introduce bills to amend Endangered Species Act
© Greg Nash

A group of House lawmakers introduced a package of bills on Thursday to overhaul the federal government’s process for protecting imperiled plant and animal species.

The ambitious legislative package would accomplish numerous longstanding Republican goals for amending the Endangered Species Act (ESA), like making it easier for the government to remove species from the endangered or threatened lists and preventing organizations from suing to try to get species protected.

The bills could also incentivize voluntary conservation efforts, let states enter “cooperative agreements” for recovery and prioritize data from local communities in making scientific decisions about conservation.

To the GOP, the package represents an opportunity to “modernize” the ESA without sacrificing species protections.

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“We can all agree that we want to make sure that we have the best interests of the endangered species on all of our minds. But we want to make sure that the science is helping us out, that we’re engaging all the assets, from private, public and government sectors,” Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarHouse passes bill expressing support for NATO McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader On The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown MORE (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, said at a news conference, unveiling the new proposals.

Gosar and Western GOP lawmakers sat alongside representatives of industry groups that support the package, like oil and natural gas.

“This is a set of bills that we think will actually start that discussion of having some modernization and to better equip us for the future," Gosar added.

Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopSenate votes to extend key funding mechanism for parks Republicans push back at first climate hearings Climate change on front burner after 8 years of GOP rule MORE (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, emphasized what he sees as a paltry success rate for the ESA: only 3 percent of species listed for protection have been delisted.

“The Endangered Species Act is the most inept program we have in the federal government. It’s a wonderful goal, but it doesn’t have an idea of what its goals actually are or where it’s going to be met or when it can actually be successful,” he said.

“I’m very proud to be here with this group that wants to reform the Endangered Species Act so that it does something well.”

While the vast majority of the package's co-sponsors are Republicans, Rep. Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderThe new Democratic Congress has an opportunity to move legislation to help horses The 15 Democrats who voted against Pelosi Live coverage: House elects new Speaker as Dems take charge MORE (D-Ore.) said he supports two of the bills.

Other Democrats and conservationists slammed the proposal, saying it threatens the successes of the ESA.

“Republicans in Congress are scamming the public as a favor for their corporate supporters, not making serious policy, and there’s no reason it should advance any further,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), the Natural Resources Committee's top Democrat, said in a statement.

“To judge by their actions rather than their words, the only things they see when they look at the natural world is dollars that aren’t in their pockets yet. They don’t seem to care how many endangered species have to die for them to build one more mine, dig one more oil well or install one more pipeline.”

“Same song, different tune,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife, said of the package.

“House Republicans, including Rep. Rob Bishop, have had their sights set on killing the Endangered Species Act from day one of this Congress. Today’s extinction package of anti-wildlife legislation just shows how out of touch these politicians are with an overwhelming majority of Americans who want to save grizzly bears, manatees, wolves and other endangered wildlife.”

The package comes less than two weeks after Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoDems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants Overnight Energy: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House Senators highlight threat from invasive species MORE (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced a comprehensive measure in that chamber to change the ESA.

Barrasso’s legislation focuses on recovery plans and the recovery process for species.