House Passes Four Bills to Gut Endangered Species Act

The House of Representatives has been busy trying to weaken the Endangered Species Act. | Photo: Karen Neoh/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The U.S. House of Representatives this week passed a package of four bills that would drastically change the way the Federal government protects endangered and threatened species, but the Executive Branch has pledged to veto at least one of the four.

The bills, part of a long-standing campaign by House conservatives to weaken federal protections for endangered species, now head to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where the chances of all four passing are likely rather slim.

Among other changes to existing law, the bills would require that all information used to determine a candidate species' status be posted publicly online, potentially exposing landowners' personal information, and the precise locations of critically endangered wildlife populations to public scrutiny.

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The bills, with their lead authors in parentheses, are:

  • H.R. 4315 (Doc Hastings, R-WA), a.k.a the 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act, which would require online publication of the above-mentioned data;
  • H.R. 4316 (Cynthia Lummis, R-WY), a.k.a the Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act, which would force federal agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to document the amount of money and staff time they spend responding to Endangered Species Act lawsuits;
  • H.R. 4317 (Randy Neugebauer, R-TX) also called the State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act, which would include any information provided by state, tribal, or county governments as part of a species' status determination as the "best scientific and commercial data available" required by law, regardless of the actual scientific quality or accuracy of that information, and;
  • H.R. 4318 (Bill Huizenga, R-MI) alternate title the Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act, which would limit to $125 per hour or less government reimbursement of fees for environmental group attorneys who take part in Endangered Species Act lawsuits or petitions. This would severely dent the budgets of some of the groups holding the government's feet to the fire on endangered species issues.

On Tuesday, the federal Office of Management and Budget issued a statement saying that if H.R. 4315, the transparency bill, makes it through the Senate, the President's senior advisers will urge him to veto the bill. Among the reasons cited were privacy concerns and the possibility that public disclosure would dissuade scientists from sharing data:

The bill would also require Federal agencies to publish on the internet all data used in ESA listing determinations. Such a requirement would limit the amount and quality of information supporting ESA decisions by discouraging data sharing by scientists, State and local governments, and particularly private landowners, who do not want their information disclosed online. This provision could also expose vulnerable wildlife and rare plants to increased poaching or vandalism.

This certainly isn't the first time this House has spent time passing bills that are unlikely to succeed in the wider world, but they bear watching nonetheless. If passed, the four would become the first legislative changes to the Endangered Species Act in more than 25 years.

About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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