The House Natural Resources Committee has approved four bills designed to modernize the Endangered Species Act.
They will next go to the House floor. A vote has not yet been scheduled.
The four bills are:
• HR 4315, the 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act, introduced by committee Chairman Doc Hastings, would require data used by federal agencies for listing decisions under the ESA to be made publicly available and accessible on the Internet.
• HR 4316, the Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act, would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to track, report to Congress and make available online funds expended to respond to ESA lawsuits, the number of employees dedicated to litigation and attorney fees awards in the course of ESA litigation and settlement agreements.
• HR 4317, the State, Tribal and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act, would require the federal government to disclose to affected states all data prior to any listing decisions and require “the best available scientific and commercial data” used by the government include data provided by affected states, tribes and local governments.
• HR 4318, the Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act, would prioritize resources toward species protection by placing caps on attorney fees and making the ESA consistent with the Equal Access to Justice Act, which limits the hourly rate for prevailing attorney fees to $125 per hour. No such fee currently exists under the Endangered Species Act and attorneys are often awarded “huge sums of taxpayer-funded money,” according to a committee press release.
“I think it would benefit our agriculture industry to know exactly what data is being used” and how decisions are made, Hastings told the Capital Press.
Hastings said the agriculture community would benefit from the bill that requires more local input.
The four bills don’t provide comprehensive reform of the act, Hastings said, but instead attempt to bring more transparency to the process.
The bills were created by a working group of 13 members across the United States and nine committee hearings.
“I’m not under any illusions that the Senate will take up what the House has passed,” Hastings said. “This is an effort to start a larger conversation that we need to have on reforming the Endangered Species Act.”