September 2013 Legislative Threats to the Endangered Species Act


With much of this month’s focus on whether and how to fund the government, there wasn’t a whole lot going on in Congress regarding endangered species.

However, Sen. Cornyn (R-TX) did file an amendment to the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill (S. 761 or the “Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act”) based on his bill (S. 19) that would prevent citizens from enforcing Endangered Species Act protections, greatly reducing the Act's effectiveness. Many statutes, including the Endangered Species Act, contain provisions that enable citizens to file suit against the federal government for failing to follow the law. The rationale is that citizens are the best government watchdogs and give laws teeth by ensuring it is implemented properly. This amendment would stifle that process through a variety of methods, including barring citizens from recovering legal fees if they prevail in a lawsuit and making settlements more difficult to achieve, thereby clogging up the courts and leading to endless litigation. Although I’m sure this amendment will crop up in other places, Shaheen-Portman was pulled from the Senate floor precisely because so many poison pill amendments like this one were filed. 

                                              (c) Fish and Wildlife Service

We also saw the House passage of Rep. Hastings’ (R-WA) inaccurately named “Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act” (H.R. 1526), which, among a parade of terribles, undermines or waives the Endangered Species Act in virtually every provision in order to ramp up logging and development in our national forests and public lands. While the bill purports to address wildfire risk, many of its provisions are unecessary since the federal government already has broad authority to conduct logging to reduce hazardous fules, and some sections could actually increase fire risk for areas where public safety needs are greatest.

Whether anything happens on this front in October will depend on whether Congress reopens the government, but right now it's eerily quiet in Washington, DC.