The nine bills focus on species recovery, getting recovered species off the list, increasing state and local involvement in ESA policies, making data related to species listings publicly available, limiting the ability of special interests to abuse ESA, capping attorney’s fees in ESA lawsuits, preventing unsuitable and specious listings, and codifying incentives to states, local governments and property owners to protect species on privately-held and state lands.
Introduction by Editor
A group of western Congressmen have been working for years on various bills to reform the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Originally passed in 1973, the ESA was reauthorized by Congress in 1988 but has not been touched since then.The act has since become the poster child for good government intentions gone wrong.
ESA has been around for nearly half a century, but only 3 percent of the species it was supposed to protect have recovered sufficiently to have their endangered classification changed. But ESA’s dismal record is nothing compared to the way it has been abused by radical environmentalists to curtail some of America’s most important natural resources-based industries.
Case in point: The spotted owl vs the Pacific Northwest timber industry. Although the northern spotted owl’s supposed endangered status was blamed on habitat loss caused by logging, research has revealed over time that its numbers were declining due to predation by barred owls which share its habitat. Nevertheless, the killing blow to the timber industry was decisive, and small communities throughout the Pacific Northwest are dead and dying, their economic backbones ripped out by courts siding with overzealous special interests armed with false science…and the ESA.
Although reforms have been discussed for decades it has not been until recently that a serious challenge to the dysfunctional act was taken up. Congressmen from several western states have put together what they call the ESA Modernization Package, consisting of nine pieces of reform legislation. The package was unveiled on July 12 in a forum that included members of the Western Congressional Caucus and 12 stakeholder witnesses. Powerful national and regional stakeholders have also thrown their support behind the reforms. They include:
•Free Market America
•National Association of Home Builders, National Mining Association
•Agricultural, mining, livestock, sport shooting, off-roading, fishing, and sportsmens’ groups from Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Washington
The nine bills focus on species recovery, getting recovered species off the list, increasing state and local involvement in ESA policies, making data related to species listings publicly available, limiting the ability of special interests to abuse ESA, capping attorney’s fees in ESA lawsuits, preventing unsuitable and specious listings, and codifying incentives to states, local governments and property owners to protect species on privately-held and state lands. The bills are summarized below:
1. H.R. 6356, the LIST Act, introduced by Rep. Andy Biggs (AZ-05):
•Gives Interior Secretary power to delist species when substantive proof of recovery presented
•Improves process for accurately identifying species and determining status
•Species wrongfully listed as endangered can be delisted quickly
•Prevents any party which submits false or fraudulent data in an ESA lawsuit from submitting future petitions for 10 years
2. H.R. 6345, the EMPOWERS Act, introduced by Rep. Steve Pearce (NM-02):
•Requires agencies to consult with states when species are being considered for listing
•Requires agencies to explain why their decisions may diverge from state assessments
3. H.R. 6344, the LOCAL Act, introduced by Rep. Scott Tipton (CO-03):
•Creates statutory channels for recognizing voluntary efforts to protect endangered species
•Establishes “Species Recovery Agreements” and “Habitat Reserve Agreements” to codify voluntary efforts
•Sets up additional incentives for voluntary conservation efforts through facilitating private party grants
4. H.R. 6355, the PETITION Act, introduced by Rep. Bruce Westerman (AR-04):
•Safeguards against abuses by special interests in petitioning processes for endangered species
•Allows Congress to step in and prevent bogus, mass-listings of unqualified and/or understudied species
•Ensures that resources are going to actual endangered and threatened species instead of specious lawsuits
5. H.R. 6364, the LAMP Act, introduced by Rep. Don Young (AK-At Large):
•Permits the Secretary of the Interior to enter into cooperative management agreements with states, local governments, tribes and other non-federal persons in order to better manage species and improve habitat conservation
•Empowers states with robust species conservation programs already in place to take the lead in managing and preserving such species when meeting certain qualifying conditions
•Secretary will finally have the authority to collaborate with local stakeholders to decide how best to make use of their talents, interest and expertise for the benefit of species recovery and habitat preservation
6. H.R. 6360, the PREDICTS Act, introduced by Rep. Ralph Norman (SC-05):
•Requires Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP’s) to protect local permitting and economic development
•Aims to codify the requirements for HCPs, Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances and Safe Harbor Agreements found in agency regulations in order to provide certainty
•Rewards the good behavior of public and private entities that faithfully uphold their agreements in order to help recover listed species
7. H.R. 6346, the WHOLE Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Johnson (LA-04):
•Ensures that the totality of state, local and private conservation measures underway will be considered before taking federal actions that impact species
•Will reduce costs associated with consultation, and allow important projects to move forward while ensuring these actions don’t negatively impact species
•Will result in more private contributions that help recover endangered species
8. H.R. 6354, the STORAGE Act, introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (AZ-04):
•Will prevent U.S. Fish & Wildlife from listing “critical habitats” where water infrastructure such as dams already exist
•Will prevent “critical habitat” listings in limited reservoirs and other artificial water delivery systems
9. H.R. 3608, the Endangered Species Transparency and Reasonableness Act, introduced by Rep. McClintock:
•Requires that data used in ESA listing decisions be made publicly available and accessible through the Internet
•Requires the federal government to disclose to affected states all data used prior to any ESA listing decisions
•Requires that the “best available scientific and commercial data” used by the federal government include data provided by affected states, tribes, and local governments
•Requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to track, report to Congress, and make available online: 1) funds expended to respond to ESA lawsuits; 2) the number of employees dedicated to litigation; and 3) attorney’s fees awarded in the course of ESA litigation and settlement agreements
•Prioritizes resources towards species protection by placing reasonable caps on attorney’s fees and making the ESA consistent with another federal law
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