October 2013 Legislative Threats to the Endangered Species Act

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The first half of the month of October was largely consumed by the shutdown, which, at least initially, brought all other activity to a stop on Capitol Hill. However, a small group of Republicans calling themselves the “ESA Congressional Working Group,” led by two of the Act’s biggest opponents – Rep. Lummis (R-WY) and Rep. Hastings (R-WA), did find time during the shutdown to once again bash on the Endangered Species Act.  Indeed, while our federal government came to a standstill, instead of working to resolve the situation, these folks held a kangaroo court in which they spouted off lie after lie about the law that protects our nation’s imperiled wildlife. Some of the most entertaining of these were a statement that the Endangered Species Act is not a law (hmmm...) and that environmentalists do not sue the Endangered Species Act for its real intent: to protect species (again, hmmmm...).

                                           (C) Fish and Wildlife Service

When the shutdown ended, the House passed its Water Resources Reform and Development Act (H.R. 3080) (the Senate passed its own version -- S. 601 -- in May).  While the bills do good in that they provide money for much-needed water projects across the country, they also contain provisions that would negatively impact the Fish and Wildlife Service’s ability to ensure water projects like dams and levees don’t harm threatened and endangered species.  With the bills now going to conference, we’re hopeful that some of these detrimental provisions will be removed.

Finally, formal farm bill conference negotiations are now underway after many disagreements and bumps in the road. Unsurprisingly, the House Farm Bill (H.R. 2642) cuts money for critical environmental programs and contains numerous anti-environmental provisions. Indeed, the bill  contains a $4.8 billion cut to voluntary conservation programs that help farmers in every state and benefit the country by providing cleaner air and water and healthier wildlife populations. In terms of provisions affecting wildlife it fails to require farmers who receive insurance subsidies to adopt modest soil and wetlands protections or protect vanishing native prairie. And it puts the interests of pesticide manufacturers ahead of the health of wildlife and communities by preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from taking action to protect endangered species from harmful pesticides under the Endangered Species Act without the voluntary agreement of a pesticide manufacturer (Section 10012) – one of the provisions on which the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing on October 29. The Senate Farm Bill (S. 954) does a lot more in terms of conservation and we are working to ensure that the final bill that emerges from conference excludes the harmful sections in the House bill.