Senate Republicans Are Teaming Up To Rein In Federal Power Over Endangered Species

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Tim Pearce Energy Reporter
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GOP Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming released a draft Monday of proposed amendments to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that would turn more authority over species protection to states.

Barrasso chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. If passed, his bill would reauthorize the ESA for the first time since 1992. Since that year, Congress has appropriated annual funds for the law’s enforcement.

“When it comes to the Endangered Species Act, the status quo is not good enough,” Barrasso said in a statement. “We must do more than just keep listed species on life support – we need to see them recovered. This draft legislation will increase state and local input and improve transparency in the listing process.”

The ESA law enacts strict regulations on land managers who own or operate land within the habitat area of endangered and threatened species. More than 1,600 U.S. plants and animals have been listed under the ESA since former President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1973.

Roughly 2 percent of listed species have officially “recovered” due to ESA protections in 45 years, although an April 17 Heritage Foundation report estimates the real rate of recovery is around 1 percent. (RELATED: Report: Feds Are Wasting Billions Protecting ‘Endangered’ Animals That Are Just Fine)

Conservationists slammed Barrasso’s amendments for turning over power and responsibility to states not equipped to handle the care and recovery of species threatened with extinction.

“This partisan bill is all about politics, at the expense of sound science and the species that depend on it for survival,” Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark said in a statement. “It is a reckless power grab designed to wrest away authority from scientists and wildlife experts and give it to states that lack the resources — and sometimes the political will — needed to save wildlife from extinction.”

The amendments give state representatives greater roles on “recovery teams” made up of state and federal officials. The teams craft plans and regulations governing ESA species’ habitats. The states also have more power to veto suggested regulations from the Department of the Interior.

The Western Governors’ Association (WGA), a bipartisan coalition representing 19 states and three U.S. territories, backed most of the amendments that are consistent with the WGA’s recommendations to ESA reforms.

South Dakota Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, the chairman of WGA, and Hawaii Democratic Gov. David Ige, vice chair of the group, sent a letter to Barrasso outlining the coalition’s support for different sections of the bill.

“The Western Governors’ Association appreciates the Chairman’s willingness to productively engage with Governors, and that the Chairman has approached this polarizing topic in an inclusive, thoughtful manner,” the letter states. “The proposed bill reflects this fact and offers meaningful, bipartisan solutions to challenging species conservation issues.”

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