Monday, July 23, 2018

Lawmakers, Lobbyists and the Administration Join Forces to Overhaul the Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act, which for 45 years has safeguarded fragile wildlife while blocking ranching, logging and oil drilling on protected habitats, is coming under attack from lawmakers, the White House and industry on a scale not seen in decades, driven partly by fears that the Republicans will lose ground in November’s midterm elections. In the past two weeks, more than two dozen pieces of legislation, policy initiatives and amendments designed to weaken the law have been either introduced or voted on in Congress or proposed by the Trump administration. The actions included a bill to strip protections from the gray wolf in Wyoming and along the western Great Lakes; a plan to keep the sage grouse, a chicken-size bird that inhabits millions of oil-rich acres in the West, from being listed as endangered for the next decade; and a measure to remove from the endangered list the American burying beetle, an orange-flecked insect that has long been the bane of oil companies that would like to drill on the land where it lives...The Trump administration unveiled its main effort to overhaul the Endangered Species Act on Thursday, when the Interior Department and the Commerce Department proposed fundamental changes to the law. Those include a provision that for the first time could allow the economic consequences of protecting plants or animals to be considered when deciding whether or not they face extinction. If the proposal is finalized, species that remain on the endangered list would still see their habitats protected, but it would become more difficult to list a new species for protection and easier to remove those now on the list...While farmers like Mr. Goehring have for years urged Congress to enact changes, the recent push has been led by David Bernhardt, the deputy interior secretary, a former oil lobbyist and lawyer whose legal clients included the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Last December, Mr. Bernhardt convened a meeting at the Interior Department between senior political appointees and career staffers, at which he laid out his plans to streamline the law. Over the course of the spring, that plan was translated into the policy proposal unveiled on Thursday. At the same time, on Capitol Hill, the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of House lawmakers, began coordinating a strategy. On July 12, the lawmakers unveiled a package of nine bills that, if enacted, would see more permanent changes to the law than those pushed by Mr. Bernhardt’s proposal. Legislation that is passed by Congress and signed into law by the president is less easily undone than regulatory changes...MORE

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