WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2015 – With both sides of Capitol Hill under GOP control, congressional Republicans will likely pursue a two-pronged effort to curb the Obama administration’s use of the Endangered Species Act.
The strategy will include moving bills to weaken various aspects of the law, including limiting attorneys’ fees and giving states a bigger say in whether species are listed for protection.
The second part of the strategy -- and the one that most worries some environmentalists -- is to delay or block the listing of specific species, likely through the appropriations process.
“This is an area where the status quo is not working,” Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the new chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said of the listing process. He told Agri-Pulse he will bring back legislation that passed the House last year and also propose broader changes, which he didn’t specify.
“What he did is a beginning point,” Bishop said of the legislation developed by his predecessor as chairman of the committee, Doc Hastings, R-Wash. “Those were the things that common sense would say you have to do. Yeah, we’re going those, but I also have to move some other things. Systemic changes have to come about.”
Bishop has hired Rob Gordon from the Heritage Foundation as his adviser on endangered species issues and to run the committee’s oversight and investigations. (Gordon, a sharp critic of environmentalists, once wrote that they believe “progress is illusory and mankind is not something to be saved but fettered.”
Bishop’s counterpart in the Senate, Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., put the endangered species issues on his priority list for oversight this year, but he hasn’t committed to moving legislation.
A standalone bill attacking the Endangered Species Act likely couldn’t survive a Democratic filibuster in the Senate much less a certain presidential veto, so Republicans best bet for success will be the appropriations process.
That means there are likely to be more policy riders like the provision that was in the omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2015 that would bar the listing of the greater sage grouse. The lesser prairie-chicken, which was listed for protection last year, could be the next candidate for such a provision, along with the gray wolf.
Rebecca Riley, who follows ESA issues for the Natural Resources Defense Council, says Republicans are likely to have more success attacking specific species listings via the appropriations process than weakening the law itself.
During last week’s debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, Senate Appropriations Committee member Jerry Moran forced a vote on an amendment to delist the lesser prairie-chicken. The measure, which needed 60 votes to be approved, failed on a near party line vote, 54-44. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, was the lone Democrat to vote for the measure.
But Moran’s measure would have a much better chance of becoming law if it’s buried in an appropriations bill along with a number of other provisions sought by various lawmakers. The president could then face the decision of whether to veto an entire appropriations bill needed to fund the government or specific agencies.
Moran said his amendment was needed to allow local interests time to agree on a “common-sense solution” to protect the bird, whose population dwindled during a prolonged drought. “This is not just a Kansas issue,” he said. “In fact, this species is only the precursor to problems others will have.”
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the chair of the Agriculture Committee, said he will work with Inhofe to at least hold hearings on the way the Obama administration is using the law.
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