Republican congressional critics of the Endangered Species Act have drafted legislation hedging the government’s obligation to take all necessary steps to bring back to robust health any species on the brink of extinction.
The draft envisions more limited government obligations: ensuring that the status of an endangered plant or animal gets no worse and helping to make it better.
Representatives of environmental groups who have seen the draft legislation said that the change, achieved by redefining the act’s interpretation of “conservation,” would severely undercut the law.
The draft measure, said Jamie Rappaport Clark, the executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife, “takes a wrecking ball to the whole Endangered Species Act” by changing its mission, disabling enforcement tools and loosening controls on agencies such as the Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.
But Jim Sims, the executive vice president of Partnership for the West, a group representing Western ranchers, farmers and industries, said the draft has a “common sense” emphasis on incremental improvements that are achievable, rather than on long-term recovery that may take decades.
“The aspirational change is necessary,” he said. “It’s more important to incrementally improve the species’ health as much as we can rather than set the bar at total and complete recovery and nothing else.”
The draft legislation, prepared by the Republican staff of the House Resources Committee, narrows the law’s reach, potentially exempting many federal actions that are now subject to review. In addition, it requires the authority to list subgroups of a species of fish or wildlife as endangered be used “only sparingly.” The draft would automatically take the law off the books in 2015.
Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House Resources Committee, has long been a critic of the Endangered Species Act, although in recent months he has spoken more favourably of its goals and indicated that his revisions would make them more achievable.
The draft legislation was provided to The New York Times by a lawmaker opposed to its provisions, who requested anonymity because the legislation had not yet been introduced.
It had been circulating among interest groups focused on the issue, which tends to pit environmental groups against a loose coalition of Western ranchers, farmers and business interests. Most lobbyists believe that the committee’s legislation would provide the framework for rewriting and reauthorizing the act.
The law has been a magnet for controversy since its passage in 1973. It is credited with playing a major role in preventing the extinction of hundreds of species of plants, insects, animals and birds in the United States. Nonetheless, only a handful of the more than 1,200 species listed over the years have recovered sufficiently to permit their removal from the list.
Over the past decade, efforts to rewrite the law failed to pass the House or were blocked by Senate Republicans, but Pombo said in a recent interview that he believes, given Republican gains in the House and the Senate in the last election, he can forge a consensus and win passage of the bill.
Source: New York Times