What Congress Does When It Thinks You Aren’t Looking

While most Americans have been rightfully glued to a certain Supreme Court nomination the past few weeks, the House Natural Resources Committee has been busy attacking science, public participation in government, and our nation’s natural heritage. Specifically, the Committee recently considered nearly a dozen proposals that would undermine the Endangered Species Act—our most effective law for protecting wildlife in danger of extinction. Here are the takeaways from Congress’s latest antics to weaken protections for our nation’s imperiled wildlife:

1. Wolves are under threat everywhere in lower-48.

First, the Committee Republicans passed a bill on party lines that would remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across the entire contiguous United States—even though they have only just begun to recover and occupy a mere fraction of their historic range. What’s more, the bill would prohibit judicial review of this decision, making it impossible for citizens to challenge it. By subverting the science-based listing process and undercutting citizens’ ability to help enforce the law, this bill would undermine the integrity of the Endangered Species Act as a whole.

2. Grizzlies escaped unscathed…for now.

As if the war on wolves were not enough, Rep. Liz Cheney attempted to add an amendment to this bill that would override the recent court decision reinstating protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears. In a rare victory for wildlife in the House Natural Resources Committee, the amendment was deemed non-germane and therefore did not receive a vote. But we can surely expect Rep. Cheney and her anti-wildlife allies to continue pushing for this bill in the future. (See next week’s Senate hearing, below).

3. The war on science and democracy continues.

The Committee also held a hearing on the “Wildlife Extinction Package”—a package of nine (yes, nine) bills that would dramatically weaken protections for imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act by assaulting science and public participation in government. For instance, one bill (H.R. 6345) would severely undermine the Endangered Species Act’s science-based listing process by giving state and local governments de facto veto authority over decisions to list species as threatened or endangered. Another (H.R. 6355) would undercut citizens’ ability to participate in and ensure adequate implementation of the law by weakening the citizen petition process and limiting judicial review.

The Committee voted on and passed four of the nine bills, sending them to the House floor for consideration.

But the fun isn’t over now that the House is in recess: Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is holding a hearing on “successful state conservation.” While that may sound harmless enough, you can be sure that Committee Chairman John Barrasso will use this hearing to push back on the recent court victory on Yellowstone grizzly bears, and to promote his discussion draft legislation, which would dramatically weaken the Endangered Species Act by transferring undue authority for species management to states that often lack the resources (and the will) to ensure adequate protections for species.

While it is essential to recognize and support state efforts to conserve and protect species, it’s also important to remember that states already have primary authority for managing wildlife; the Endangered Species Act only comes into play as a law of last resort when state efforts have failed to ensure adequate protections for species within their borders.

Pro-environment members of Congress should recognize the significance of the Endangered Species Act as a last line of defense in saving our most imperiled wildlife and defend this cornerstone conservation law from attacks by anti-environmental politicians in Congress and the Trump administration. 

About the Authors

Nora Apter

Legislative Advocate, Government Affairs

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