Congress, States Propose Protection Cuts for Endangered Species

The Endangered Species Act has been under fire since January, as states' attorneys general and US Congress alike have attempted to weaken it.

Mar 8, 2017
Joshua A. Krisch

USDA, JACK DYKINGA

Congressional Republicans have introduced at least 11 bills since January that could weaken the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Climate Central reported this week (March 6). According to Scientific American, no fewer than 12 state attorneys general have asked President Donald Trump to roll back specific ESA regulations that protect endangered habitats by restricting access to state-owned land.

Since 1984, the ESA has included a clause that all habitats deemed crucial to the survival of an endangered species be protected by federal law. Under the Obama administration, these rules were extended to also protect land that endangered species do not yet inhabit, but could be used for species rehabilitation in the future.

Opponents have argued that the act is a federal land grab. “It has never been used for the rehabilitation of species,” Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah) told the Associated Press in January. “It’s been used for control of the land.”

Others have claimed that the ESA hurts local economies. “Most of these costs are difficult or impossible to measure,” Jonathan Wood, an attorney who represents opponents of the act, told Climate Central. “They’re the homes that were never built, the businesses that were never started.”

In response to these economic concerns, several state attorneys general sent a letter to the Trump transition team in January and filed a complaint about the act with a US District Court in Alabama, according to Scientific American.

Meanwhile, Congress has been chipping away at the act with bills. Two prominent examples are the Stopping EPA Overreach Act, which is sponsored by 122 House Republicans and would bar Environmental Protection Agency regulators from enforcing rules on climate change as a result of the ESA, and the Federal Land Freedom Act, which is currently in Senate and  would allow oil and gas drilling on land protected by the ESA.

Supporters of the ESA have cited a PNAS study, which reported that, as of 2015, the act had not substantially interfered with or halted any major building projects. Others have pointed to the universal benefits of species conservation. “Habitat loss is the single largest cause of species extinction worldwide, so the ability to preserve the habitat needed by species is the most powerful tool of the Endangered Species Act,” ecologist Bradley Cardindale of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor told Climate Central. “Conservation of biological diversity provides people with insurance that the world will be able to produce their air, water and food even as the climate changes.”

See “Science Policy in 2017