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 GosarGOP lawmaker's siblings endorse Dem opponent: 'Difficult to see my brother as anything but a racist' Overnight Energy: Navajo coal plant to close | NC dam breach raises pollution fears | House panel to examine endangered species bills Push to change wildlife act sparks lobbying blitz 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 BishopOne year later: Puerto Rico battles with bureaucracy after Maria Land and Water Conservation Fund is good for business Trump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands 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 SchraderDems reverse course on White House parks plan Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog won’t drop Pruitt probes | Exxon leaves conservative advocacy group | Lawmakers offer changes to Endangered Species Act Western lawmakers introduce bills to amend Endangered Species Act 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 BarrassoTrump privately calls Mattis ‘Moderate Dog’: report Push to change wildlife act sparks lobbying blitz House and Senate negotiators reach agreement on water infrastructure bill 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.