By Nora Apter, National Resources Defense Council
Those who are familiar with the Endangered Species Act might recall that since its enactment in 1973, the law has saved more than 99 percent of listed species from extinction. Unfortunately, the Act’s opponents are quick to attack the very qualities that have been critical to its enduring success: science-based decision-making and citizen engagement. The bills under consideration in today’s House and Senate hearings are no exception.
For instance, two of the bills in committee today (H.R. 424 and S. 1514) would block federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes states and Wyoming, and prohibit future judicial review of these legislative wolf delistings. In a one-two punch, these bills would not only ignore the Endangered Species Act’s science-based decision-making process, but would also weaken the rule of law and citizens’ access to the courts more broadly.
Sadly, these bills are simply variations on a theme: H.R. 2603 would remove Endangered Species Act protections for all non-native species within the United States, without any scientific consideration. Another bill (H.R. 1274) would subvert the Endangered Species Act’s science-based listing process entirely, by allowing any state, local or tribal information—regardless of whether it is based in science—to be used to determine whether a species is deserving of protection.
In the same vein, H.R. 717 would literally put a price on species conservation by allowing cost to be a determining factor in whether our nation’s most imperiled species deserve protection. And that’s not all: the same bill would also weaken citizen engagement with the law by subverting the citizen petition process for listing species. By impeding upon citizens’ ability to obtain counsel and challenge illegal government actions under the law, H.R. 3131would similarly undercut citizen participation and enforcement of the Endangered Species Act.
By prioritizing politics over science and undercutting citizens’ ability to help enforce the law, the bills under consideration in today’s House and Senate hearings threaten to undermine the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act as a whole. As we brace for the devastating global impacts of a sixth mass extinction, Members of Congress must oppose these and other legislative efforts to weaken this cornerstone conservation law, so that it can continue protecting our nation’s remaining plants, fish and wildlife.