After ruminating for more than a decade over whether and how to reauthorize the Endangered Species Act, the US Congress is once again gearing up to overhaul or possibly repeal the landmark environmental law, first enacted in 1973.
Property rights, industry, and conservative groups have criticized the law for years as being ineffective, unwieldy, and expensive. Some environmental organizations agree that the ESA could be improved, but there has been little agreement among all parties over exactly how to do so.
The latest proposal for extensive revisions may come from the House Resources Committee. Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA), who also is targeting major revisions to another keystone environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act (see TipSheet of May 25, 2005), may release his preferred version in early September 2005, after the August recess.
A draft of a proposal attributed to Pombo surfaced in early July 2005, reportedly leaked by a disgruntled Republican lawmaker (The New Standard: Controversial Attack on Endangered Species Act May Backfire and Leaked copy of Rep. Pombo's anti-ESA bill ). Pombo is said to be revising that version, which environmental groups sharply criticized for major ESA revisions they said would:
eliminate the ESA in 2015
eliminate the requirement to recover endangered species
reduce protection for threatened species
reduce protection of habitat critical to survival for endangered species
increase politicization of scientific decision-making
eliminate the ability of the two federal agencies charged with administering ESA, the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service, to review some projects proposed through other federal agencies
encourage industry lawsuits, and prohibit lawsuits by most scientists and environmental groups
Details and other concerns.
A May 2005 Committee staff analysis of the ESA found a number of problems in its science, effectiveness, processes, and agency assessments of economic costs and impacts, but the Findings and Recommendations did not directly suggest changes as significant as those in the draft proposal.
The Endangered Species Coalition, which opposes the draft version of Pombo's proposal, says Pombo's office is now disavowing the bill as his. ESC speculates the bill's introduction may be delayed at least a month or two. ESC: Brock Evans, 202-772-3201.
The American Land Rights Association has been stirring up its members to support ESA revisions, but acknowledges that Pombo's legislation may get delayed, at least until mid- to late September 2005. ALRA: Chuck Cushman, 360-607-3312.
Along with the House efforts, the US Senate has begun ESA hearings. In a May 19, 2005, Environment and Public Works Subcommittee hearing at which eight people who may play a role in future efforts testified, Chairman Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) said that old 1997 legislation offers a good role model for a workable solution. Search U.S. Congress on the Internet for S 1180, from the 105th Congress of 1997-1998.
The National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition represents about 150 private sector and industry groups, such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, Edison Electric Institute, and the National Association of Home Builders. NESARC generally favors more participation by local private interests, a larger role for states, payment for losses caused by ESA, more consideration of economic effects when determining listing status for a species, improvements in the listing science, and incentives for private land owners to voluntarily save species.
Other groups, such as the recently-formed Noah Alliance, which emphasizes a religious perspective, may also play a role in the final product.
Many other players will speak out as the next round of proposed revisions is scrutinized. Some starting points include:For one perspective on Pombo, possibly a central player in future revision efforts, see SEJ member Matt Weiser's articles in the July 25,2005, issue of High Country News.
For information on a number of other ESA angles, see the four-part TipSheet of Jan. 19, 2005.
The ESA covers species that are considered endangered (in danger of extinction in all or a significant part of their range), threatened(likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future), or likely candidates for either listing.
FWS has jurisdiction over the vast majority of the current listings, primarily land-based animal and plant species, while NOAA Fisheries handles a few marine-based species. Every federal agency is required to coordinate with these two agencies regarding efforts under their own jurisdiction that may affect listed species. Some states have more stringent requirements than the federal standards.
There currently are 988 listed endangered species, 276 threatened species, 21 species proposed for listing, and 286 other candidate species with no current formal proposals for listing. Critical habitat, one of the more divisive ESA issues, has been designated for 464 species, and 485 habitat conservation plans, a relatively new tool designed in part to ease the burden of species listing, have been approved. Find listings in your state.