Today is Endangered Species Day and we are calling attention to pending federal legislation that would undermine the Endangered Species Act. You can make sure they don’t move forward by calling your U.S. senators and U.S. representatives and telling them to oppose these bills. To find your U.S. Senators, click here. To find your U.S. Representatives, click here.
Read more about these bills that are anything but animal and environment friendly.
1) House Resolution 717, known as the Listing Reform Act, aims to amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973. It was introduced by Rep. Pete Olson in January 2017. Currently the ESA considers petitions to list a species as endangered or threatened in the order in which they are received. HR 717 would allow decision-makers to take other concerns into account. The appropriate department would be given the authority to preclude the listing of a species as threatened “due to the likelihood of significant, cumulative economic effects that would result from such listing or from the likely resulting designation of critical habitat of the species.” In other words, the bill introduces economic factors into a process that previously had not considered them.
HR 717 would also forbid giving priority to petitions to list a species over other petitions to delist. Finally, a finding that listing is not warranted may not be reconsidered unless “the Secretary receives a new petition to add such species to such list that includes a written qualitative and quantitative analysis re-examining the incremental and significant, cumulative economic effects of likely action to protect the petitioned species and its potential habitat upon each State and locality that is affected by the petitioned species listing…”
Under the current ESA, once a species has been listed, a recovery plan will be created. HR 717 will also change this, as it would mandate that the appropriate department determine if a plan is needed prior to determining whether or not the species is endangered. Animal advocates are strongly opposed to this bill and argue that it would result in a significant waste of money. They also point out that there are economic costs involved in not protecting species. Every species has a certain niche in an ecosystem.
2) Senate Bill 292, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn on Jan. 28, 2015, is known as the Endangered Species Transparency Act. It proposes amending the ESA by requiring publication on the internet of the basis for determinations that species are endangered or threatened species. Proponents of the bill have not clearly explained their reasoning, but the best explanation for their position is that they believe it would lead to greater transparency and would provide the public with more information in assessing ESA judgments. Opponents of S. 292 point out that that agencies do not have the resources to create an online system. Furthermore, it ignores situations in which disclosing data could actually hurt species. By undermining the confidentiality of the scientific data used in these determinations, it may persuade fewer scientists to take part in the process of evaluating endangered and threatened species. The bill will involve increasing the amount of bureaucracy in listing decisions, which will result in wasting money rather than saving it. The public’s right to information also must be balanced against the right of scientists to keep their data private before there has been a chance for peer review. Releasing this information early could also result in an increase in poaching, among other things.
3.) S. 375 bill would amend the ESA to establish a procedure for approval of certain settlements. It was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn on Feb. 14, 2017. S. 375 would require a Rule 4 complaint to be published “in a readily accessible manner, including electronically.” In addition to raising the same privacy concerns as the previous bill discussed, S. 375 would unnecessarily prolong the ESA process due to the need for approval from all these officials. This would result in a waste of money and resources.
Cornyn and other Senate Republicans have claimed that the ESA overburdens local governments as well as commercial interests. They also allege that it has failed to help listed species because fewer than 50 species have been removed from the Act’s protection. This stance, however, ignores the fact that the recovery of endangered species takes time. The commercial interests themselves are also a problem. Environmental groups have stated that Republicans merely want to protect campaign contributors from the oil and gas industry.
4.) Other bills want to amend the ESA so as to directly benefit owners of private property. One of these is S. 935, introduced by Senator Rand Paul on April 25, 2017. The Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act would amend the ESA to “permit governors of states to regulate intrastate endangered species and intrastate threatened species, to amend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to permit the taking of certain black vultures and ravens, and for other purposes.” There is no mention of any scientific data that governors might rely on in making these decisions. In addition, any compensation of owners for real property affected by agency actions will be made by consultation between the Secretary of the Interior and the owner.
The justification for these proposed amendments is, again, the alleged lack of evidence that the ESA is helping species recover. Exceptions for “population control” also apply to certain birds, namely black vultures and ravens. If these birds can be shown to endanger any personal property (including livestock, vehicles and buildings) then they are not covered by the protections of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This seems to imply that they are simply pests whose interests ought to be subservient to those of private property owners,
The House version of this bill is H.R. 2134, introduced by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer on April 25, 2017. The connection to private property interests is here even more explicit. The ESA, claims the bill, should be revised because “the ESA effectively penalizes landowners for owning endangered species habitat by forcing them to bear the cost of conservation” and because environmentalists use it as a tool for slowing down infrastructure projects. The decision of the Secretary in ESA-related cases will be based on “the best scientific and commercial data” but this is redefined to mean “any scientific evidence made available to the Secretary by any State agency.”
5.) Finally, H.R. 226, the African Elephant Conservation and Legal Ivory Possession Act, was introduced by Rep. Don Young on Jan. 3, 2017. This bill would amend the African Conservation Act of 1988 to relax strictures on ivory importation. If passed, it would be permissible to import ivory imported for purposes of becoming part of a museum’s permanent collection, or exported for purposes of display in a foreign museum. The bill also excepts any ivory that was legally importable on Feb. 24, 2014, and any worked ivory that was previously lawfully possessed in the United States. Proponents of the bill argue that this is not in conflict with efforts to stop elephant poaching. However, it also explicitly permits some elephant trophies. Elephant trophies may be imported “if the country in which the elephant was taken had an elephant population on Appendix II of CITES at the time the trophy elephant was taken.” The problem with this is that many of the countries that issue permits have an incentive to do so regardless of the health of the population. This encourages trophy hunters and will do nothing to stop the practices of poaching and trophy hunting. International cooperation is vital to enforcement of CITES, but there are not enough mechanisms in place to ensure a sustainable population.