Share This Page

Republicans challenge protection law

| Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 8:36 p.m.

BILLINGS, Mont. — Republicans in Congress on Tuesday called for an overhaul to the Endangered Species Act to curtail environmentalists' lawsuits and give more power to states, but experts say broad changes to one of the nation's cornerstone environmental laws are unlikely given the pervasive partisan divide in Washington.

A group of 13 GOP lawmakers representing states across the country released a report proposing “targeted reforms” for the 40-year-old federal law, which protects imperiled plants and animals.

Proponents credit the law with staving off extinction for hundreds of species — from the bald eagle and American alligator to the gray whale. But critics contend the law has been abused by environmental groups seeking to restrict development in the name of species protection.

Led by Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, the Republicans want to amend the law to limit litigation from wildlife advocates that has resulted in protections for some species. And they want to give states more authority over imperiled species that fall within their borders.

Also among the recommendations are increased scientific transparency, more accurate economic impact studies and safeguards for private landowners.

“The biggest problem is that the Endangered Species Act is not recovering species,” Hastings said. “The way the act was written, there is more of an effort to list (species as endangered or threatened) than to delist.”

Signed into law by President Nixon in December 1973, the act has resulted in additional protections for more than 1,500 plants, insects, mammals, birds, reptiles and other creatures, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Republicans have seized on the fact that only 2 percent of protected species have been declared recovered — despite billions of dollars in federal and state spending.

Noah Greenwald, a wildlife advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, disputed the 2 percent figure as a “gross manipulation of facts” that ignores the hundreds of protected species on the path to recovery.

The political hurdles for an overhaul of the law are considerable. The Endangered Species Act enjoys fervent support among many environmentalists, whose Democratic allies on Capitol Hill have thwarted past proposals for change.

Oregon Rep. Pete DeFazio, the ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, suggested on Tuesday that Republicans appeared intent on gutting the law. He predicted the changes being sought would go nowhere in the Senate.

“There is no appetite to overturn the (Endangered Species Act),” DeFazio said.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.