House slashes ESA rider in rare Democratic win
In a rare victory for Democrats, the House voted today to strip a provision from an Interior and U.S. EPA spending bill that would have imposed a one-year moratorium on new Endangered Species Act listings.
Rep. Norm Dicks' (D-Wash.) bid to strike the endangered species language was supported by 37 Republicans. Two Democrats -- Reps. Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Dennis Cardoza of California -- voted against it.
"It's not quite as horrible a bill as it was," Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, said following the vote.
Still strongly opposed to the overall measure, Moran has a list of 17 other amendments that Democrats still plan to offer in the coming days to kill other policy riders. But few of those are expected to draw Republican support.
One proposal that could draw Republican backing is an amendment by Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.) that would cut a provision allowing for uranium claims near the Grand Canyon, Moran said. It is expected to reach the floor tomorrow.
The ESA rider would have prevented the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing new species or increasing protections for already-listed plants and animals. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chairman of the subcommittee that wrote the bill, said the rider was intended to encourage stakeholders to push for a reauthorization of the 1973 law.
Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said a reauthorization is needed, as the law has not been reauthorized in 23 years.
"The conversation begun this week will continue," Hastings said. "The Natural Resources Committee will move forward in the fall to examine the law by listening to citizens affected by, and interested in, the ESA. The law is expired, failing to achieve its fundamental goal of species recovery and has become a tool for expensive debilitating lawsuits."
Speaking on the floor last night, Dicks said he would not support a drastic ESA overhaul but would support a reauthorization as long as it did not take the form of an appropriations rider.
"I just would say, nobody's stopping you," he told Hastings. "Hold your hearings, have your meetings. Call your witnesses. But don't stop listing 260 candidate species until you get the job done."
What's next for ESA?
But interviews with Hastings and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) this week indicate that environmental groups have not approached committee staff on a reauthorization plan for ESA.
And as a result of the Dicks amendment, Republicans may have lost any leverage they had hoped to bring to the reauthorization discussion. Today's vote, which drew the support of dozens of Republicans, indicates that future attempts to hamstring ESA will run into similar resistance.
"We'd rather not have the House work on a reauthorization on the Endangered Species Act," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "Representatives like Doc Hastings and Rob Bishop are not friends of the ESA."
Hastings, Bishop and Simpson have argued that ESA has a woeful record of actually recovering species. They argue that most of the money spent on the act goes toward defending the government from legal challenges from environmental groups, rather than crafting substantive recovery plans.
Hastings said the committee will hear from citizens this fall on the impacts of ESA. But it is unclear whether staff and environmental groups would be able to reach a broader deal on a reauthorization.
Greenwald said his group has proposed some ideas for strengthening ESA, including setting deadlines for crafting recovery plans and limiting the amount of time candidate species can wait for formal listing decisions.
"I doubt those are the things on the minds of Representative Doc Hastings," he said.
Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, said the next step should be to give the Interior Department time to pursue administrative improvements to ESA.
"Let's see what they come up with," Schlickeisen said. "Hopefully, they can get the law to the point where it really does work better for all the stakeholders."
Bill Snape, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the federal government should focus on challenges facing endangered species due to habitat loss and climate change.
"Doc Hastings will think twice before trying to assert his anti-ESA, anti-environment point of view before the people's House," he said in an email. "A great victory."
Other Democratic amendments
Over the coming days, Democrats will offer amendments to strike down the bill's provisions dealing with land use, grazing permits, mountaintop mining rules, coal ash and the Clean Water Act, among other things.
Five pending amendments would restore EPA's authorities to regulate greenhouse gases and hazardous and smog- and soot-forming emissions. These amendments are expected to fail, but similar riders are not expected to pass the Senate.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who tacked on language in committee that would place a moratorium on EPA's proposed rule for toxic emissions from power plants, said she hoped some of the House riders would become law.
"I have never been able to determine the will of the Senate," Lummis said. "My desire is to reflect what is important to my constituents in this bill. And in this bill, what is important to my constituents is having jobs."
EPA and environmentalists dispute Republican claims that new air quality rules would have a detrimental effect on job creation.
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