By Nora Apter, Natural Resources Defense Council
Surely readers are as tired of reading this headline as the advocate is of writing it. Too bad for us, GOP members of Congress and their counterparts in the Administration have somehow not grown tired of brazenly attacking fundamental environmental protections. Case-in-point: Wednesday, September 13th, the House Natural Resources Committee is holding a markup on seven bills that threaten the role of science and citizen engagement in federal decision-making on public lands, resources, and wildlife. By continuing a dangerous trend of limiting public involvement in government decisions, subverting scientific considerations in favor of political calculations, and undermining the rule of law, these bills and their sponsors not only attack our environment—they attack the foundation of our democracy.
One perennial piece of legislation included in the markup is the SHARE Act (H.R. 3668). Damaging provisions within the bill would forgo science-based decision-making under the Endangered Species Act; eliminate public participation in federal planning processes under the National Environmental Policy Act; and jeopardize management of the National Wildlife Refuge System by curtailing critical habitat conservation programs. The bill also contains the reoccurring “War on Wolves” rider that continues Congressional attempts to interfere with science-based listing decisions and undermine the rule of law and citizen court access by precluding judicial review of two gray wolf delisting decisions. This destructive, undemocratic bill threatens to harm wildlife and public lands, erode bedrock environmental laws, and undermine key conservation policies.
Another bill under consideration is the Native American Energy Act (H.R. 210), which would erode the public interest by severely limiting citizen engagement and government transparency surrounding the development of major energy projects on tribal lands. Specifically, one section of the bill would amend the cornerstone National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by restricting public input on environmental reviews to only members of the Indian tribe and the “affected area.” Citizens and communities outside the tribe, even if significantly affected by the project, would be cut out of the process and could not sue for government malfeasance. In doing so, this provision would undermine public involvement in decisions around potentially environmentally devastating projects. To make matters worse, another section would insulate these same projects from judicial review making legal challenges overwhelmingly cost-prohibitive except by large corporations.
And of course, a House Natural Resources Committee event would not be complete without an attack (or five) on the Endangered Species Act itself. In addition to the above loaded pieces of legislation, the Committee markup will also include five anti-Endangered Species Act bills. In continuing the tired theme of prioritizing politics over science and undercutting citizens’ ability to help enforce the law, these bills threaten to undermine the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act as a whole.
Thankfully, these proposals are too far gone to pass as standalone bills on the House floor. However, that does not mean that their sponsors will not seek to attach them as policy riders on any must-pass legislation that moves. Pro-environment, pro-democracy members of Congress must stand strong against such attempts, and must not be coerced into voting for such destructive legislation—regardless of the vehicle.