The Endangered Species Act, one of our most successful conservation laws, is facing an unprecedented attack from both the Trump administration and Congress. Over the summer, the U.S. Department of the Interior proposed a set of policy changes that would make it harder to protect the country’s most imperiled plants and animals. And just this week, Republican lawmakers at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing considered a suite of nine bills that would cut the ESA off at its knees. (To boot, the committee also approved a bill that would preemptively remove federal protections for the gray wolf. It is now awaiting a vote in the House.)
The bills, which opponents have dubbed the Expanded Wildlife Extinction Package, would weaken the very same law that saved American icons like the bald eagle, the grizzly bear, and the manatee from extinction. Here’s some of what the Extinction Package entails.
A Degradation of Science
Science is what fuels the ESA—not politics nor economics. Just the cold, hard facts, please. That’s the beauty of the ESA and why it’s such an effective means of conserving species on the brink. But H.R. 6345 would give states and local governments de facto veto authority on proposed species listings, effectively undermining what should be the final word: the data. Another bill, H.R. 3608, prioritizes state and local data, regardless of whether that data is based on science.
America’s citizens also make the ESA so successful, because in the country’s courtrooms we can help ensure the government is following its own laws. But H.R. 3608 would limit the ability of citizens to recoup the legal costs of such actions—making it a lot easier, in the end, for violators to get off the hook.
H.R. 6355 would also silence citizens through the creation of a “petition backlog.” Once the number of submitted petitions reaches a certain limit, the government would only consider requests for delisting or downgrading species, while petitions to list or uplist species would receive automatic denials. Even worse, it would prevent citizens from challenging decisions to deny listing petitions.
“Fully Protected”—a Thing of the Past?
If passed, H.R. 6364 would allow state and local governments to replace federal laws with their own weaker ones, with little federal oversight. This is currently illegal under the ESA.
Meanwhile, H.R. 6344 would create significant loopholes regarding the killing (accidentally or otherwise) of protected species by potentially allowing would-be violators to lawfully move forward with an activity, even if that activity results in the “take” an endangered or threatened animal.
Sabotaging the country’s most effective means of keeping species from slipping into oblivion is a troubling step in the wrong direction. If anything, biologists agree that we need to ramp up our conservation efforts and strengthen the ESA—not ram through attempts to derail it.
Oh, and in case Congress needs reminding: We are currently living through the sixth mass extinction.
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