May 2013 Legislative Threats to the Endangered Species Act

As two bills with funding for Members’ pet projects received floor time in the Senate this month, Members lined up to file their amendments. As you might guess, many concerned the Endangered Species Act (ESA). First up was the Water Resources Development Act, to which a few anti-ESA amendments were filed, including Sen. Paul’s (R-KY) Amdt. #812 to exempt the fat pocketbook pearly mussel (don’t you just love the name?) from the ESA and Amdt. #807 to negate the effect of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed rule on impact analyses of critical habitat. The good news is that no anti-ESA amendments were voted on. The bad news? The underlying bill, which passed the Senate, contained provisions that will severely limit consultation between the Service and the Army Corps of Engineers that occurs before the Corps commences a water project that will affect endangered species under Section 7 of the ESA.

Next came the Senate Farm bill. The Senate hasn’t yet finished work on the bill, but when they left for their districts on May 23 they had filed over 200 amendments to it. These included Sen. Inhofe’s (R-OK) Amdt. #958 to delay the ESA listing decision for the lesser prairie chicken for another two years; Sen. Lee’s (R-UT) Amdt. #1019 to exempt all intrastate species – of which there are over 900 – from the ESA; and Sens. Vitter (R-LA) and Cornyn’s (R-TX) Amdt. #994 to prevent the National Marine Fisheries Service and Fish and Wildlife Service from using the best science to protect endangered species.  Fortunately, none of these amendments were voted on, but we’ll see what happens when the Senate resumes work on the Farm bill next week.


Courtesy of Fish and Wildlife Service

As for bill introductions, Rep. Costa (D-CA) introduced H.R. 1927, which would overturn science-based ESA protections in California’s Bay Delta to dramatically increase pumping for large agricultural interests, risking the extinction of the area’s salmon and the eradication of the fishing jobs that depend on them. 

And, in another attempt to bring polar bear trophies from Canada to the U.S., Rep. Young (R-AK) introduced H.R. 1866 to amend the ESA and the Marine Mammal Protection Act so that species protected under these statutes may be imported.

Lastly, the House Natural Resources Committee marked up the Cape Hatteras legislation (H.R. 819) – which was reintroduced from last year – on May 16. As I’ve written before, this bill undoes a multi-year public process with thousands of public comments and attempts to amend various laws including the ESA.

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