House committee votes to relax Endangered Species Act

House committee votes to relax Endangered Species Act
© Getty

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 BishopOvernight Energy: McConnell tees up vote on Green New Deal | Centrist Dems pitch alternative to plan | House Republican likens Green New Deal to genocide | Coca-Cola reveals it uses 3M tons of plastic every year House GOP lawmaker says Green New Deal is like genocide Overnight Energy: Solar installations dropped in 2018 | UN report says rising Arctic temperatures 'locked in' | Fiat Chrysler to recall 850K vehicles 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 JohnsonHouse panel advances bill to expand background checks for gun sales Lawmakers push crackdown on foreign lobbyists House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King 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 McClintockHouse passes bill expressing support for NATO Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds Rep. Mike Johnson wins race for RSC chairman 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 BarrassoThis week: Trump set for Senate setback on emergency declaration We should end tax giveaways to electric vehicle owners Overnight Energy: McConnell plans Green New Deal vote before August recess | EPA official grilled over enforcement numbers | Green group challenges Trump over Utah pipelines 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.