Today, Senate Republicans are holding a hearing to find out how best to repeal the Endangered Species Act.
Republican lawmakers have wanted to “modernize” the Endangered Species Act for years, mainly on the basis that the laws protecting the habitats of various species are inhibiting the potential for drilling, mining, and land development across America. With the new Trump administration, they are closer than ever to getting their wish.
Since the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2011, they have made 233 legislative attempts to either dismantle the Act or target specific endangered species, and have introduced 135 separate legislative amendments designed to dramatically reduce protections for species listed under the act and weaken the Act itself.
This, however, appears to go against the public opinions and wishes of the American people. The last national poll conducted on the public’s views on the Act was in 2015, which found that 90 percent of Americans not only supported the Act, but would be more inclined to vote for a member of Congress who wanted to uphold environmental safeguards.
“The clear intent of this hearing is to begin the process of gutting the Endangered Species Act,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), in a statement. “[The] callous attack on this crucial environmental law is totally out of step with the strong majority of Americans who support the Endangered Species Act. Without the Act we wouldn’t have bald eagles, grizzly bears or many other wildlife species we all cherish.”
The Endangered Species Act was unanimously approved by Congress and signed into law by President Nixon in 1973 to save the bald eagle. Since then, according to the CBD, it has saved 99 percent of the species listed under its protection from extinction. It is estimated that without the Act, 227 species would have gone extinct by 2006. Under the last administration, 32 species were confirmed as fully or partially recovered, with another 12 species proposed as recovered.
Of course, being a Democrat does not automatically mean you are for the Act, just as being a Republican does not mean you are against it. Plenty of Democratic members of Congress have helped legislation that will weaken existing protections get through. Not only that, the Act itself was signed into being by a Republican president, the same Republican president who created and implemented the Environmental Protection Agency.
Arguments for dismantling the Act have ranged from "it isn’t saving enough species" to the "financial burden" of protecting species. The main argument for weakening the Act, though, is from the industries – oil, coal, land development, logging, dam building – who want access to the land that is protected under the environmental protection laws.
It is not clear how dismantling the very laws that protect the vulnerable species will help rather than hinder them, and according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Congress contributes just 3.5 percent of the funding needed to help recover these species.
“With 1 in 4 endangered species receiving less than $10,000 a year toward their recovery, the Endangered Species Act needs more funding, not baseless attacks from Senate Republicans,” continued Hartl of the CBD. “Oil companies may be keen to gut and repeal this vital protection for imperiled wildlife, but the American people don’t want our nation’s most effective conservation law shredded to profit the petroleum industry.”
If you are part of the 90 percent who support the Endangered Species Act and don't want to see this priceless piece of legislation dismantled, then contact your Senator and let them know how you feel. Today is the first hearing. It’s not a done deal yet.