WASHINGTON — A Senate hearing to “modernize the Endangered Species Act” unfolded Wednesday just as supporters of the law had feared, with round after round of criticism from Republican lawmakers who said the federal effort to keep species from going extinct encroaches on states’ rights, is unfair to landowners and stymies efforts by mining companies to extract resources and create jobs.
The two-hour meeting of the Environment and Public Works Committee was led by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who said last month that his focus in a bid to change the act would be “eliminating a lot of the red tape and the bureaucratic burdens that have been impacting our ability to create jobs,” according to a report in Energy and Environment News.
In opening remarks, Barrasso declared that the act “is not working today,” adding that “states, counties, wildlife managers, home builders, construction companies, farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders” have made that clear in complaints about how it impedes land management plans, housing development and cattle grazing, particularly in western states.
Barrasso’s view is in lockstep with the Trump administration, which wants to cut regulations that impede business, particularly energy cultivation. Last week, the Interior Department under President Trump delayed the start date of protections for the endangered rusty patched bumblebee, which has lost an estimated 90 percent of its population in the past two decades. The department said it is reviewing rules set by the Obama administration only weeks earlier, triggering a lawsuit from a nonprofit conservation group that called the delay and the review illegal.
At least one Republican has vowed to wage an effort to repeal the Endangered Species Act. “It has never been used for the rehabilitation of species,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said, according to an Associated Press report. “It’s been used to control the land. We’ve missed the entire purpose of the Endangered Species Act. It has been hijacked.”
The Endangered Species Act is a 43-year-old law enacted under the Nixon administration at a time when people were beginning to understand how dramatically chemical use and human development were devastating species. It has since saved the bald eagle, California condor, gray wolves, black-footed ferret, American alligator and Florida manatee from likely extinction.
But members of the hearing said its regulations prevent people from doing business and making a living. In a comment to a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director who testified at the hearing, Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., repeated a point made by Barrasso that of more than 1,600 species listed as threatened or endangered since the act’s inception, fewer than 50 have been removed.
That’s about 3 percent of the total, the chairman said. “As a doctor, if I admit 100 patients to the hospital and only three recover enough to be discharged, I would deserve to lose my medical license,” Inhofe said.