House lawmakers air deep-seated differences on ESA

A hearing took up Republican legislation to ease some Endangered Species Act requirements.

February 15, 2024

House members alternately bashed and defended the Endangered Species Act on Wednesday in a hearing that highlighted partisan differences galore but showed no room for compromise on updating a key component of the landmark 1973 law.

The hearing before the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries dealt with but one ESA-related bill, H.R. 6784, that itself addressed only one specific part of the law. Still, lawmakers used the occasion to launch broader salvos.

"While there's been a noble effort to protect the threatened and endangered species from extinction, it's clear today that the ESA is broken," said the H.R. 6784 author, Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minn.).

In particular, Stauber raised concerns about the consequences that follow the Fish and Wildlife Service's uplisting of the northern long-eared bat from threatened to endangered.

Currently, the ESA universally prohibits the "take" of an endangered species. This covers everything from killing to injuring and disturbing.

For threatened species, the law allows so-called 4(d) exceptions. When offered, these permit take in some circumstances such as timber clearing or stream restoration.

"The 4(d) process under the ESA has untapped potential to provide regulatory flexibility for affected stakeholders, but also to address these specific threats impacting listed species," said Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-Ore.), the subcommittee chair.

On Wednesday, for instance, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced threatened status for the silverspot butterfly from Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

The agency also finalized a 4(d) rule that exempts activities including livestock grazing, prescribed burning and utility infrastructure maintenance.

Stauber's bill states that federal agencies "shall" issue such 4(d) exceptions for threatened species and "may" issue them for endangered species.

similar bill was introduced last Congress but did not advance.

"Bills like this are not what we need to address the biodiversity crisis, and they are not what threatened and endangered species need to avoid extinction," said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). "This may be what industry wants, but I can guarantee it is the exact opposite of what is required for species survival and recovery."

Last year, Huffman joined a GOP-led group that was supposed to mull changes to the ESA. Divisions between the parties, however, appear insurmountable.

Steve Guertin, deputy director for program management and policy for the FWS, said the agency also opposes Stauber's bill, contending it would "undermine our ability to protect the species at greatest risk" of extinction.

"Flexibility is appropriate for a species that is imperiled but not at imminent risk of extinction" Guertin said, while adding that the bill would "dilute protections" for endangered species and "effectively result in no distinction between threatened and endangered species."


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By:  Michael Doyle
Source: E&E News