September 2015 Legislative Update on the Endangered Species Act

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(C) Gregory Smith

Everyone needs good news sometimes. And writing about the legislative threats to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) each month has been getting me down. That's why, going forward, I'm also going to include positive legislative efforts related to the ESA in this blog series.

So, good news first: this month, Rep. Grijalva (D-NM) and 91 other Democratic House Members sent a letter to President Obama asking him to continue to oppose all anti-ESA riders on the 2016 spending bills. As I've written before, these bills are chock-full of horrible riders that would remove ESA protections for many imperiled species.

In addition, Rep. Dingell (D-MI) filed an amendment to the RAPID Act that would have improved the awful bill by preventing project approvals under the bill's arbitrary timelines if the project would limit opportunities for hunting or fishing or impact threatened or endangered species. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), wildlife-related recreation contributes more than $140 billion dollars to the U.S. economy and supports thousands of jobs connected to fishing, hunting, and the observance of wildlife. Unfortunately, the amendment didn't pass but it was a good vote with all Democrats and 8 Republicans voting in favor!

On the bad - or maybe just weird - news front, Senate Republicans held an Environment and Public Works subcommittee briefing on how to "improve" (i.e., weaken) the ESA with FWS Director Dan Ashe and the governors of Wyoming and Montana. The briefing was not attended by a single Democratic senator, showing that there is no bipartisan support for gutting the ESA despite Republicans' claims. Director Ashe repeatedly told senators that the best thing they could do to improve endangered species recovery was to increase funding for it, but there's little chance they'll listen to him on that front.

And, in both good and bad news, House and Senate negotiators reached a compromise on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2016 (H.R. 1735). Most of the terrible riders that were previously in the House and Senate versions of the NDAA - including ones that would delist the lesser prairie chicken, prevent the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the greater sage-grouse until 2025, and permanently remove the endangered American burying beetle from protection under the ESA - were removed! Unfortunately, a provision that would harm Californian sea otters by exempting the Navy from complying with the ESA and the Marine Mammal Protection Act is still in the legislation. The bill now heads for votes in both chambers.