On July 27, 2011, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings announced that the Committee will "move forward" in the fall to examine the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in an effort to reauthorize the law. Chairman Hastings issued his statement shortly after the House passed an amendment offered by Rep. Norm Dicks to the FY 2012 Interior Appropriations Bill that restored funding to the ESA's listing program. The original spending bill would have eliminated funding for the processing of petitions, preparation of 12-month findings, and issuance of final rules - unless they were to downlist or delist species.
The ESA has not been updated in 23 years, and Chairman Hastings stressed that "Congress needs to do its job to reauthorize the law." He stated, "The law is expired, failing to achieve its fundamental goal of species recovery, and has become a tool for expensive debilitating lawsuits." Moreover, he stressed, that Congress has "a duty to act on the ESA's reauthorization and it needs to be updated in a calm, careful and bipartisan way."
According to Chairman Hastings, "The Interior Appropriations Bill that Chairman Simpson has brought to the House Floor prioritizes funding to ensure that core responsibilities and environmental protections are met." As applied to the ESA, the bill originally focused on the continued funding of recovery activities while limiting funds for new listings and habitat designations.
Prioritizing funds for recovery activities, while limiting those available for listings, was an attempt to curb the growing number of lawsuits against the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Chairman Hastings stated, "By striking this provision, the Dicks amendment would reopen the litigation floodgates."
Despite Chairman Hastings' misgivings, passage of the Dicks Amendment is being hailed by some as "a major triumph for the Fish and Wildlife Service and environmentalists." The Center for Biological Diversity (Center) called the vote a "victory for imperiled species." Characterizing the original provisions of the appropriations bill related to the ESA as the "extinction rider," the Center's endangered species program director, Noah Greenwald, said that "it would have been a disaster for hundreds of animals and plants across the country that desperately need the help of the Endangered Species Act to survive."
The House is set to vote on the full appropriations bill in the coming days. If passed, it will move to the Senate.