House passes Endangered Species Act reform

The House passed a bill that would require the Secretary of the Interior or Secretary of Commerce to make the reasonings for an endangered species listing available on the Internet.
Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on July 30, 2014 8:58AM

Last changed on July 30, 2014 1:20PM

The U.S. House has passed a bill that amends the Endangered Species Act to require publishing the reasons for protecting a species.

HR 4315 requires the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Commerce, as appropriate, to provide on the Internet the best scientific and commercial data that are the basis for the determination of whether a species is an endangered species or a threatened species, including proposed regulations for the listing of a species.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash. It passed 233-190 in the House, and now goes to the Senate.

Hastings cited the listing of the White Bluffs bladderpod, a plant found on thousands of acres of land in Franklin and Benton counties in Washington, as a prime example of the need for federal data transparency.

“Instead of focusing on meeting a mega-settlement deadline, the Obama Administration should incorporate local scientific data and input from local property owners to better serve both species and people,” Hastings said.

“It’s time this law was brought into the 21st Century,” Hastings added. “These are very simple, straightforward and common-sense measures that aim to increase transparency, enlist greater consultation by states, localities and Indian tribes in species listings, and reduce taxpayer-financed attorneys’ fees to help invest more funding in actual species recovery.”

Hastings doesn’t expect the Democrat-controlled Senate to take up the bill, because President Barack Obama has threatened a veto on the bill.

According to a statement of administration policy from the president’s Office of Management and Budget, the bill would “rigidly constrain science, public input and data in making Endangered Species Act determinations.”

According to the statement, the bill would require several changes “detrimental” to implementation of the act. The bill “would deem all data from a state, tribal or county government to be ‘best available’ without regard to the quality or merit of the data,” the statement said, and require federal agencies to consider information based on its source rather than substance.

Requiring federal agencies to publish on the Internet all data used in listing determinations would “limit the amount and quality of information supporting ESA decisions by discouraging data sharing by scientists, state and local governments and particularly private landowners, who do not want their information disclosed online,” according to the statement.

The provision “could also expose vulnerable wildlife and rare plants to increased poaching or vandalism,” the statement states.

It would add “yet another administratively burdensome reporting requirement to an already long list of reporting requirements, diverting limited agency resources away from species recovery efforts toward more paperwork,” according to the statement.

The bill would “limit the ability of citizens to seek recourse in the courts against unlawful federal actions, diminishing a critical tool for citizens,” according to the statement.

Co-sponsors of the bill include Rep. David Valdao, R-Calif., Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.

Hastings said the bill incorporates legislation from several other bills passed out of the House Committee on Natural Resources. Among the other elements of the bill are:

• A requirement that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make available online the amount of money used to respond to ESA lawsuits, the number of employees dedicated to it and attorneys’ fees awarded during litigation and settlement.

• Places caps on attorneys’ fees under the ESA similar to caps in place at other federal agencies. Under the ESA, attorneys are awarded rates as much as $600 per hour, according to a Walden press release. The federal government limits fees to $125 per hour in federal suits involving Social Security, veterans and disability claims.



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