April 9, 2014

Knee-jerk reaction to endangered species legislation

By M. Reed Hopper Senior Attorney

It’s amazing how predictable the “green lobby” is.  One can predict with absolute certainty that when conservative lawmakers propose legislative changes to the Endangered Species Act, no matter how benign, they will be met with the tired old accusation that the changes will “gut the Act.”  This canard has become obligatory among activists who are in the lucrative business of selling outrage.

Therefore, when I heard that the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources would be considering four new ESA bills, I knew we would be hearing “their gutting the Act” alarm bells from the usual bell ringers.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The Defenders of Wildlife, Earth Justice, Sierra Club, NRDC, and the Center for Biological Diversity led the attack.

In the true spirit of their calling, they did not mince words.   As summarized at eNews Park Forest we were treated to these breathless claims:

Don’t be fooled by this piecemeal approach—this is just the tip of the iceberg. These bills are drawn directly from Representative Hastings’ recent report containing proposals that essentially gut the Endangered Species Act, making species extinction more likely and recovery of many of our most endangered species almost impossible. —  Defenders of Wildlife

These attacks undermine the Act’s essential protections for species on the brink of extinction.  — Earth Justice

The cost of weakening [ESA] protections in order to benefit special interests will be extinction for a number of plants and animals. – Sierra Club

Folks supporting these bills are trying to undermine the Endangered Species Act. Period.  — NRDC

And last, but not least:

There isn’t a single provision—or even single word—in any of these bills that would help any species anywhere in the country move toward recovery.  — CBD

Wow! This is scary stuff.  If these bills will dismantle the ESA, they must be drastic. Well, let’s take a look:

H.R. 4315 – This bill would require the Secretary of Interior to publish to the internet the best scientific and commercial data available that forms the basis for any listing decision.

H.R. 4316 – This bill would require certain federal agencies to file an annual report with Congress showing the nature and cost of any civil suits brought against the federal government arising under the Endangered Species Act.

H.R. 4317 – This bill would require the federal government to disclose to affected states all data used prior to any ESA listing decisions and require that the “best available scientific and commercial data” used by the federal government include data provided by affected states, tribes, and local governments.

H.R. 4318 — This bill would limit attorney fees to $125 per hour for citizen suits filed under the ESA to match the Equal Access to Justice Act.

So, what do you think?  Does increasing transparency and reducing the cost of ESA litigation really “gut the Act?”  You be the judge.

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