Our Views Columns

Our Views Columns

Date: 9/11/2014

Title: Modernization of the Endangered Species Act Addressed at Legislative Hearing

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing to discuss six bills that attempt to update and improve the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Public Lands Council stand in full support of modernizing and streamlining the ESA, which hasn’t been reauthorized since 1988.

NCBA and PLC have been involved in this effort on several fronts, submitting comments in partnership with state affiliate organizations on the Gray and Mexican Wolves, Sage Grouse, Lesser Prairie Chicken, and the Black Footed Ferret, among others. While designed to protect species from endangerment of extinction, the ESA has proven itself to be ineffective and immensely damaging to livestock producers’ ability to stay in business.

During the nearly 40 years since the ESA was passed, the industry has come to recognize the Act as greatly flawed and outdated. Todd Staples, Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, stated that of the 1,500 domestic species listed since 1973, less than two percent have ever been deemed recovered.

“The ESA regulatory system has evolved into a rare conundrum where the burden of proof, and related costs, is placed on landowners or communities to prove a regulatory action is not necessary; instead of placing that burden on the regulatory agency to prove the benefits of the regulations would outweigh the costs,” said Commissioner Staples. “This results in numerous regulatory burdens being enforced with certain costs but obscure benefits. Add to that the fact that activist groups are driving this regulatory scheme and it’s not hard to see how the ESA, in its current form, contradicts basic American scientific regulatory standards, and our basic sense of justice as costs are unnecessarily and unfairly shifted to private individuals in an attempt to achieve a public good.”

Environmental activist groups’ habitually sue the federal government to force the listing of a species, then sue to prevent species delisting—even after recovery goals have been met. Their legal expenses are often reimbursed by the American taxpayer.

Because of the 2011 mega-settlement between the Department of Interior and two environmental organizations, Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians, a listing decision on 779 different species must be made by 2016, leaving no time for sound research and science-based decisions.

“This broken process has led the ESA away from fulfilling its original intent and is now one of the most economically damaging laws facing the nation’s livestock producers,” said Dustin Van Liew, executive director of the Public Lands Council and NCBA federal lands. “When species are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, the resulting use-restrictions placed on land and water, the two resources upon which ranchers depend for their livelihoods, are crippling. The ESA is in great need of modernization, and while not a complete fix, these bills take some of the necessary steps to repairing this broken law.”

The bills discussed at the hearing were:

H.R. 1314, introduced by Representative Flores (R-Texas) would amend the ESA to establish a procedure for approval of certain settlements.

H.R. 1927, More Water Security for Californians Act, introduced by Representative Costa (D-Calif.) would provide congressional direction for implementation of the ESA as it relates to operation of the Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project and for water relief in the State of California.

H.R. 4256, Endangered Species Improvement Act of 2014, introduced by Representative Stewart (R-Utah) would amend the ESA to require the inclusion of the number of species on State and private lands as determined by the State when counting the number of species in determining whether a species is threatened or endangered.

H.R. 4284, ESA Improvement Act of 2014, introduced by Representative Neugebauer (R-Texas), would amend the ESA to encourage greater State input and authority over management by allowing the states to propose and implement State Protective Action before species are listed.

H.R. 4319, Common Sense in Species Protection Act of 2014, introduced by Representative Crawford (R-Ark.) would amend the ESA to require the Secretary of the Interior to publish and make available for comment a draft economic analysis at the same time a proposed rule to designate critical habitat is published. 

H.R. 4866, Lesser Prairie Chicken Voluntary Recovery Act of 2014, introduced by Representative Mullin (R-Okla.) would reverse the listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species under the ESA and to prevent further consideration of listing of such species pending the implementation of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-Wide Conservation Plan and other conservation measures.



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