The Endangered Species Act (ESA) may be receiving a significant overhaul as lawmakers move forward with legislation that would establish the most substantial changes to the law in decades. The U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee recently met to discuss nine different bills that would make alterations to the ESA.
Of the bills discussed by the committee, five bills advanced along party lines. The Endangered Species Transparency and Reasonableness Act would require that agencies make the information used for their listing decisions available online. The Under the Weigh Habitats Offsetting Locational Effects Act of 2018 would require agencies to consider the totality of conservation measures before taking federal actions that impact species. The Providing ESA Timing Improvements That Increase Opportunities for Nonlisting Act of 2018 would implement a process to better address petition backlogs. The Ensuring Meaningful Petition Outreach While Enhancing Rights of States Act of 2018 would mandate better communication with states and municipalities when considering ESA petitions.
“What we grapple with today is not whether we should conserve species from extinction, but how we should conserve species from extinction.” California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson stated when testifying to the committee on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “For this to happen, we must increase the opportunities for collaboration and decrease the opportunities for conflict.”
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 has undergone relatively few changes since it was first enacted. The lack of revision is one of the key reasons that supporters of the bills believe that updates are necessary. One of the critiques of the ESA is that animals are added to the list with relative ease, but it can be especially difficult to get them removed.
Environmentalists and other opponents to altering the ESA argue that the proposed changes would weaken enforcement and that the bills are a misguided effort on behalf of Republican lawmakers. The bills could potentially receive individual floor votes or be converted into a larger package to be considered during the lame-duck session after the midterm elections take place on November 6.