It’s difficult to see how people could be against the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which came about in 1973 and was signed into law by President Nixon. It’s designed to make sure that vulnerable species of plants and animals remain protected, and that any trends to extinction are reversed, no matter what the cost.
Unfortunately, we live in 2017, where the GOP war against supposedly “overburdening regulations” has become nothing short of extreme. To wit, the party now has four separate bills in the House, almost fully formed and ready for a vote, which will take apart the ESA once and for all.
Last year, Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah) – who’s heading this legislative effort – said that he wanted to repeal the ESA in its entirety. The reason, of course, is short-term profits: Regions with protected species mean that resource extraction, like mining and fracking, cannot take place there. If the ESA disappears, so do these restrictions.
A clean repeal would be immensely difficult to achieve – partly because 90 percent of Americans support the Act – so these five bills are designed to handicap it as best as it can. Let’s look at the two that would do the most damage if passed through both the House and, later, the Senate.
H.R. 717, put forward by Representative Pete Olson (R-Texas), would “require the consideration of the economic costs of protecting an animal or plant on the endangered species list, and remove all deadlines for completing the listing process.”
This is essentially a way for lawmakers to prioritize resource extraction or land sales over the relatively small cost of ensuring something doesn’t go the way of the dodo. No such economic threshold is set, so it’s really up to policymakers as to when the ESA becomes “too costly” in an area.
Additionally, as pointed out by the Center for Biological Diversity, it takes an average of around 12 years for the appropriate federal agencies to put flora or fauna on the endangered species list. If this bill passes, it means that this isn’t taken into account, which would consequently leave plenty of species bereft of protection.
H.R. 1274, introduced by Representative Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), is classic science denial 101. It would mean that whatever ESA-related data is submitted by the government first – no matter how out-of-date, flawed or simply incorrect the data actually is – it will automatically be considered the “best available” science.
Forget consensus: This bill means that the “facts” about endangered species are decided by anyone who gets some numbers on a piece of paper together, scientist or no.
If these bills become law, then the ESA will be hollowed out. It’ll still exist, but in name only.
This, of course, would be a travesty. Ever since it was signed into law, it has since saved 99 percent of all the species listed as being under protection. Without the Act, around 227 species would have died out by 2006.
It’s worth mentioning that the threats to the EPA are not exclusively coming from the Republicans. Some Democrats too have joined in on efforts to weaken it over time, including Representative Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). His bill, also under Olson’s umbrella, would remove the protection currently afforded to gray wolves in the western Great Lakes states.
Either way, this is a largely industry-driven push to kill off the EPA. In response, the CEO of the non-profit conservation group, Defenders of Wildlife, told Salon that “Whether or not a species is on the brink of extinction is [a question] of science, not of economics.”