October Threats to the Endangered Species Act

Border Bill

On October 5, the House Natural Resources Committee passed the deceptively-named “National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act” (H.R. 1505) by a party line vote of 26-17.  Introduced by Rep. Bishop (R-UT), the bill would exempt the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from complying with more than 30 laws, including a variety of environmental ones, within 100 miles of any U.S. border, land, or sea. Under this proposal, DHS would not have to comply with laws like the Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, or National Environmental Policy Act in borderlands in eighteen states, including in national treasures like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It’s hard to imagine, but if this bill passes, DHS wouldn’t even have to consider the environmental impacts of building a road straight through Glacier National Park! Species that would be impacted by this bill include the desert tortoise, jaguar, ocelot, grizzly bear, Canada lynx, pacific salmon, and polar bear.  For more on this, see here

House Homeland Security Chairman King (R-NY), a cosponsor of Bishop’s bill, introduced a reauthorizing bill for the Homeland Security Department (H.R. 3116) that includes a similar provision. The language mirrors an amendment offered by Sen. McCain (R-AZ) that made its way into the Senate Homeland Security authorization bill (S. 1546).  

                                      Courtesy of the Fish and Wildlife Service 

Science and the Endangered Species Act

On October 13, the House Science Committee held a hearing on the science behind the Endangered Species Act.  GOP committee members claimed that it’s time to “overhaul” the Act because it has not led to as many delistings as they’d like. But species driven to the brink of extinction (which is essentially what it takes to receive protection under the Act) aren’t going to recover overnight.  Instead, it takes time and hard work.  Since the Endangered Species Act has only been around since 1973, most listed species haven’t been protected long enough to recover to the point of delisting.  However, thanks to the Act, most of them now have stable populations, and very few observed extinctions have occurred!

Senate Appropriations

When the Senate introduced their FY12 Transportation appropriations bill (S. 1596) this month, we were surprised to find that Sen. Nelson (D-NE) had inserted a rider into it that would exempt the rebuilding of roads, highways, and bridges damaged by natural disasters from a variety of environmental reviews, including the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.  We are hopeful that this harmful rider will be removed from the bill when the House and Senate attempt to reconcile their different versions in conference. To read more about this provision, see here.

Senator McCain (R-AZ) offered an amendment (#739) to the Commerce, Science, and Justice; Agriculture; and Transportation “minibus” that would harm endangered species by preventing states from using money from the Transportation Enhancements program to create wildlife corridors. Fortunately, the Senate voted 59-39 not to vote on the McCain amendment, but they’ll consider an identical one to the same bill today—this time offered by Sen. Paul (R-KY).  Wildlife corridors are areas of habitat that connect wildlife populations that have been separated by human activities, such as roads. They allow individuals to move between populations, which helps prevent inbreeding and reduced genetic diversity, and helps reestablish populations that have been reduced or eliminated due to events like fires or disease.

Republican "Jobs Plan"

On October 17, Senate Republicans introduced the “Jobs through Growth Act” (S. 1720).  But instead of creating jobs, this bill simply attacks almost every existing environmental protection, including the Endangered Species Act.  First of all, the bill exempts those who spray pesticides over water from complying with the Clean Water Act (section 3999(D)).  Because pesticides have been linked to massive fish kills, this provision is bad news for species like salmon, along with our nation’s commercial fisheries. The bill also proposes to amend the Endangered Species Act to allow the harming and killing of listed species and destruction of habitat critical to their survival in emergency situations (section 4136(a)).  It would also prohibit the Interior Department from considering the affects of climate change on a species when determining whether to protect the species or its habitat under the Endangered Species Act (section 4036(b)).