Not much substance, a lot of political smoke …
FRISCO — The Republican anti-environment cadre in the House is once again taking aim at the Endangered Species Act by introducing legislation that would make it even harder for federal agencies to protect animals and plants that are at risk of going extinct.
Two of the bills, H.R. 4316 and H.R. 4318, would limit the ability of citizens to challenge government decisions in court. The Republican measures are also ostensibly aimed at reducing the government’s legal costs associated with responding to endangered species lawsuits, but conservation advocates said that is an ideological red herring. Government data shows that the Department of Interior has spent far more money responding to frivolous demands for documents than on settling lawsuits.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently wrote to Doc Hastings, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee:
“Last year the Department conservatively estimates that it spent over 19,000 staff hours and accordingly nearly $1,500,000 of taxpayer resources responding to the Committee’s numerous document requests. Given the scope of the Committee’s requests, this investment of time and resources impacts vital Department functions such as approving oil and gas leases, approving infrastructure projects, working with states to develop greater sage-grouse conservation plans, and much more.”
“Rep. Hastings has once again chosen to pursue a cynical strategy that whittles away at the core of the Endangered Species Act rather than working to strengthen it,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “If you want to protect endangered species, the best way to do it is to provide wildlife agencies with the resources to do their jobs, and stop hamstringing their conservation efforts at every turn. Continuing to perpetuate Tea Party myths is not a path to species conservation.”
The bills have no chance of passing the U.S. Senate and are seen mainly as a political maneuver aimed at placating the party’s extreme right-wing tea party base. Passing the new laws would divert funding from protecting species and discourage citizens from helping enforce the ’ landmark law that has prevented extinction of 99 percent of the species it protects.
“Like most of his Tea Party brethren, since becoming the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, Doc Hastings has voted to cut off funding to protect highly imperiled endangered species and weaken the Endangered Species Act every chance he’s gotten,” said Hartl. “Republicans always claim that they also support endangered species, but their actions consistently prove otherwise.”
Two additional bills — H.R. 4315, introduced by Rep. Hastings, and Texas Rep. Randy Neugebauer’s H.R. 4317 — claim to increase transparency and enhance state and local participation under the Act.
But Republicans ignore the fact that the Act already provides states with extensive input in all protection decisions affecting species within their borders, and that the wildlife agencies always consider information submitted by state and local government agencies when making protection decisions. Rep. Hastings’ bill would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to post all information about listing decisions online, without considering that posting some of the information could increase the threat of poaching of some highly imperiled species.
“It’s really sad that the Republicans continue to needlessly attack the most important American law ever written protecting plants and animals from extinction, when common-sense improvements — such as fully funding recovery activities — could actually pass in Congress and help to change the course of the extinction crisis we’re now facing. This is another wasted opportunity,” Hartl said.