House approves significant Endangered Species Act improvements
Washington—The House of Representatives passed landmark legislation aimed at integrating commonsense transparency and accountability reforms into the Endangered Species Act. The Farm Bureau-supported 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act (H.R. 4315) would update and improve the processes and procedures that the ESA established 40 years ago so that they better serve the needs of the public and the people most affected by the law.
“Thus far, agency coordination with farmers and ranchers is often lacking and at best inconsistent,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman wrote in a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio). “Listing decisions are often made using outdated, insufficient or inaccurate data that is not always publicly available.”
Too often, Stallman continued, ESA has been used to prevent farmers and ranchers from working their privately owned land, while little has been accomplished in the way of recovering imperiled species.
The 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act, which was expanded to include a series of bills related to ESA reform, addresses the problems Stallman noted in his letter by making ESA decisions more transparent and strengthening state and local involvement in ESA listing decisions and use of state data. The measure also provides transparency on ESA litigation costs and payment of attorney’s fees and makes ESA attorneys’ fee payments reasonable to ensure that scarce taxpayer dollars are prioritized.
Specifically, the bill’s several important improvements to the ESA include:
· Requiring the public release (via the Internet) of the data that has been determined to be the best scientific and commercial data available and forms the basis of a proposed or final regulation to designate a species as threatened or endangered.
· Requiring an annual report on expenditures for certain ESA-related lawsuits.
· Introducing a definition of “best scientific and commercial data available” that “includes all such data submitted by a State, tribal, or county government.”
· Capping fees that may be awarded to attorneys with taxpayer dollars from ESA-related lawsuits against the federal government.
The first piece of standalone ESA improvement legislation to be approved in the House in nearly a decade, the legislation passed with a vote of 233-190. The strong support the bill received is primarily due to the work of Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), according to Ryan Yates, AFBF ESA specialist.
“We’re planning on taking that momentum over to the Senate to get these much-need improvements and updates to the ESA in place,” Yates said. “Farmers, ranchers, landowners and other stakeholders look forward to a productive dialogue with senators.”