House committee votes to relax Endangered Species Act

House committee votes to relax Endangered Species Act
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A House panel passed four GOP-backed bills Thursday to amend the Endangered Species Act (ESA), making compliance easier for industries, states and landowners.

The Natural Resources Committee’s bills would give priority to science submitted by state and local governments when federal officials decide whether to protect species, require the Interior Department to consider conservation actions that could happen in the future when making ESA decisions and let Interior prioritize or discharge petitions for species protections under some circumstances.

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Taken as a whole, the bills would represent the biggest changes to the ESA in decades.

Republicans on the panel, led by Chairman Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopDozens of states consider move to permanent daylight saving time Statehood bill could make Puerto Rico a state before 2020 Here's why Congress, not the president, should lead on environmental protection MORE (R-Utah), said the changes would make the ESA work better for industry and landowners, as well as the imperiled species themselves.

“We cannot allow the fear of challenging the status quo to prevent us from taking a hard look at the ineffective policies put in place decades ago that have failed to meet the goals of the underlying statute,” said Rep. Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonCongress holds first Equal Rights Amendment hearing in 36 years amid ratification push House panel advances bill to expand background checks for gun sales Lawmakers push crackdown on foreign lobbyists MORE (R-La.).

Johnson's Weigh Habitats Offsetting Locational Effects Act of 2018, or WHOLE Act, would require that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) take into account conservation efforts that might happen in the future when deciding whether a species needs protections. It passed, mainly along part lines, 20 to 11.

Democrats said the legislation would be disastrous and make it harder for the federal government to protect species.

“I think it is accurate to say that Republicans and Democrats are both working towards a shorter list of endangered species,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), the panel’s top Democrat.

“Democrats would shrink that list by returning endangered species to health. Republicans appear to be on the road to shrink that list by allowing more and more endangered species to go extinct.”

The Endangered Species Reasonableness and Transparency Act passed by a similar vote. Rep. Tom McClintockThomas (Tom) Milller McClintockConservation happens one animal at a time House passes bill expressing support for NATO Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE’s (R-Calif.) bill would have Interior give priority to science from local and state governments when considering protections and cap the attorneys’ fees that groups can get from suing over ESA decisions.

The Ensuring Meaningful Petition Outreach While Enhancing Rights of States Act of 2018, or EMPOWERS Act, from Rep. Stevan Pearce (R-N.M.), also cleared the committee. It would require Interior to consult with every state and county in a species’ habitat before making a listing decision. If the listing decision didn’t match with any state or county’s wishes, Interior would have to justify the differences.

The Providing ESA Timing Improvements That Increase Opportunities for Nonlisting Act of 2018, or PETITION Act, from Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ala.), passed as well. It would let Interior easily de-prioritize or discharge petitions to protect species based on the needs for protections or the science available.

The House is expected soon to go on a recess until after Election Day, so any vote in the full chamber on the bills would have to wait until then.

The measures are part of a package of nine bills that the Congressional Western Caucus introduced in July to overhaul the ESA.

Separately in July, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump boxed in on trade Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations Mike Enzi announces he'll retire from Senate after 2020 MORE (R-Wyo.) introduced draft legislation to change how ESA protections are implemented, and the Trump administration proposed a number of regulatory changes to how the law is carried out.