Today, the House Natural Resources Committee is holding a full committee oversight hearing on species conservation efforts undertaken at “on-the-ground-levels” in an effort to compare those efforts with the effectiveness of Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuits. The hearing, entitled Defining Species Conservation Success: Tribal, State and Local Stewardship vs. Federal Courtroom Battles and Sue-and-Settle Practices, is the first in a series of hearings planned by the House to review the effectiveness of conservation efforts under the ESA.
Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) said of today’s hearing that it “will provide an opportunity to hear what is working well right now at the state, tribal, and local levels as opposed to ESA-related litigation that divert time and resources away form actual recovery efforts.” He also noted: “Many states, tribes and local communities are effectively implementing conservation efforts to help species. Those closest to the species know firsthand how to protect species better than distant bureaucrats and litigious groups who often hinder the ESA through lawsuits and closed-door settlements.”
For their part, many House Democrats and environmentalists argue that ESA lawsuits are a legitimate measure in their arsenal for protecting endangered and threatened species. For example, Brett Hartl, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), said “Representative Hastings and his Republican colleagues are disturbingly out of step with most Americans, who overwhelmingly support protecting endangered species from extinction.” CBD is a frequent litigant in these ESA lawsuits. Hartl championed efforts by citizen and non-profit groups like CBD, stating, “[t]he lesser prairie chicken and sage grouse have declined by at least 90 percent over the past 100 years, but it wasn’t until citizens petitioned and sued to get protection for these animals that concrete state, local and private conservation efforts to save them from extinction began.”
Tomorrow, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the “Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act,” which would require agencies entering into consent decrees and settlement agreements to publish proposed versions of those agreements for public review and comment prior to entering into them. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grasseley (R-IA) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA). The bill previously passed the House last year, but died in the Senate.
Republicans argue that the proposed bill would close a back door that environmentalists use to circumvent the usual rulemaking process. John Walke, the clean air and climate change director for the Natural Resources Defense Council disagrees, arguing that the proposed bill “is designed to obstruct enforcement of federal health, safety, environmental and consumer protection laws” and allow industry to exert undue influence over court actions.
The Judiciary Committee hearing will be held tomorrow, June 5, at 10 a.m.