House GOP unveils package to eliminate 'frivolous' lawsuits over endangered species

The House GOP unveiled a legislative package on Thursday that would enact major reforms to the Endangered Species Act, eliminating “frivolous” lawsuits over species protections while streamlining the permit process for developers and energy companies.

The reform package, called the “Endangered Species Act Modernization Package,” included nine bills meant to reform the 1973 law to focus on “recovery” of threatened and endangered species, rather than keeping species listed indefinitely.

Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said the Endangered Species Act, if it were a Major League Baseball player, would have a batting average below .100. “That means the Endangered Species Act is the most inept program we have in the federal government,” he explained.

“It’s a wonderful goal, but it doesn’t have an idea of what its goals actually are, or when its going to be met, or when it can actually be successful, which is why the Endangered Species Act has to be reformed if its going to do anything for the species,” Bishop said at a press conference to unveil the plan.

He emphasized that “rehabilitating” species, not keeping protections indefinitely, or even making the species worse off, should be the goal of the program, which has the poorest record in Washington.

Lawmakers at the press event explained that Thursday’s release of the reform package was meant to initiate a bicameral process, with the Senate promising to develop its own Endangered Species Act reform plan if the House moved first.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, released draft legislation on July 2 that looks to give states more influence over the endangered species process. Barrasso will hold a hearing on modernizing the Endangered Species Act on July 17, focused on the discussion draft.

Lawmakers who unveiled the package in the House said they will also be encouraging more co-sponsors to sign onto their legislative package.

One of the bills, the List Act, gives the Fish and Wildlife Service the ability to delist species, removing them from the list of endangered or threatened species, if wrongfully listed, while minimizing lawsuits over decisions to take species off the protected list. It also gives the Fish and Wildlife Service the ability to delist species if the the population has recovered.

Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., said the Endangered Species Act is “a little like the Hotel California. You check in, but you don’t check out,” referencing lyrics from the 1976 hit song by the pop rock group The Eagles. He remarked that the “good news” in his state is that the grizzly bear has recovered. The bad news is it happened 15 years ago, underscoring the need for Washington to focus on recovery and removing species from the list once the population is deemed rehabilitated.

He criticized environmental groups for holding back the process of recovery through “frivolous lawsuits.”

The package also includes the Petitions Act, which would prevent another tactic of environmental groups to keep species listed for longer, through the Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species petition process. It is an “abuse” of the system, which creates “frivolous petitions” to gum up the works, said lawmakers supporting the bill.

Conservation groups and Democrats pushed back against the package.

“House Republicans, including Rep. Rob Bishop, have had their sights set on killing the Endangered Species Act from day one of this Congress,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. “Today’s extinction package of anti-wildlife legislation just shows how out of touch these politicians are with an overwhelming majority of Americans who want to save grizzly bears, manatees, wolves and other endangered wildlife.”

Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, blasted the package, calling it a scam.

“Republicans in Congress are scamming the public as a favor for their corporate supporters, not making serious policy, and there’s no reason it should advance any further,” Grijalva said in a statement.

“They don’t seem to care how many endangered species have to die for them to build one more mine, dig one more oil well or install one more pipeline,” Grijalva said. “They have sacrificed every other value we hold dear in the pursuit of a quick buck, and they’re doing a poor job of hiding it.”

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