Senate committee talks ESA “modernization”
Could the last election’s shakeup in Washington, D.C. mean a makeover for the Endangered Species Act (ESA)? On Wednesday, Feb. 15, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held a hearing to discuss ESA weaknesses and possible areas for improvement. For the first time since 1988, many are saying Washington’s stage is set for ESA amendments.
Although specific legislative amendments were not brought up at the hearing, broad suggestions were. Those included improving state/federal coordination; requiring better scientific quality and quantity before species can be listed; making sure every listing decision is accompanied by a clear delisting plan; and providing landowners with positive incentives for habitat conservation, rather than just regulatory burdens.
Over the years, these and more ideas have been discussed at a multitude of hearings held by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. A witness who spoke at the Senate hearing on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife noted that over 130 bills or legislative riders were introduced last Congress to update the ESA. Had that legislation ever reached President Barack Obama’s desk, it would have been destined for failure.
But President Donald Trump has claimed his administration will be different. For example, the White House website states his administration will “identify job-killing regulations that should be repealed.” Already, his administration has come under fire for delaying protections for the rusty patched bumble bee, which the Obama administration listed as endangered in January. An environmental group has since filed suit against the Interior Department.
The House has also signaled it will likely tackle ESA amendments. On Feb 7, the House Natural Resources Committee approved a workplan for the 115th Congress that includes a directive to “continue to examine ways to update and improve the ESA…” Sen. John Barrasso (R- WY), Chairman of the EPW, noted that of 1,652 total species listed in the U.S. since 1973, only 47 have ever been delisted.
“As a doctor, if I admit a hundred patients to the hospital, and only three recover enough under my treatment to be discharged, I would deserve to lose my medical license,” said Barrasso, who was a medical doctor before being elected to the Senate.
“Here’s the problem: The [ESA] isn’t working today,” he said, “and we should all be concerned when the Endangered Species Act fails to work.” — Theodora Johnson, WLJ Correspondent