Once upon a time, a Republican president (Teddy Roosevelt) created the US Forest Service, established five national parks, over 50 federal bird reservations and 150 national forests. Once upon another time, a Republican president (Richard Nixon) created the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Those times are long gone.
Last week, Motherboard revealed Congressional Republicans’ ongoing attempt “to systematically dismantle the Endangered Species Act (ESA) through dozens of legislative proposals.” And that’s not hyperbole. Defenders of Wildlife, a national conservation organization, has created a list of 84 pieces of legislation submitted by the 114th Congress aimed at dismantling the ESA or shifting its power from the federal to state level.
Republicans Attack the Endangered Species Act
These bills include everything from small but significant changes – such as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would allow the Navy to be exempt from ESA rules if they kill or disturb protected southern sea otters in their work – to major and mind-boggling ones – such as a bill submitted by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) that would not only make it harder to list species but also require species to automatically be deleted from the list after five years.
Major attempts to erode the ESA often fail before they ever gain traction. As Jeffrey Rachlinski, an environmental law expert at Cornell University, told Motherboard, “Major reform is, I think, very unlikely given the need to get 60 votes in the Senate and pass the presidential signature. And it’s a fairly stable and wildly popular statute, on the whole.” There’s also much evidence, he added, that the ESA works.
Yet smaller amendments to existing laws can and do pass. “Some of the little ones might get through, specifically exempting out one thing or another, because that’s happened before,” Rachlinski said.
As for why Republicans are dedicating themselves to destroying the ESA, their argument is the same it usually is when it comes to land-rape or environmental obliviousness: It’s just business. Colorado Representative Doug Lamborn was not shy in explaining why he backs an amendment that would end ESA protection of the endangered Preble’s meadow jumping mouse.
“The little acrobat’s most famous feat was its leap onto the Endangered Species list in May 1998, a move that has hindered development in moist meadows and streamside areas,” Lamborn said. “Among many projects that have been affected: the Jeffco Parkway southeast of Rocky Flats, an expansion of Chatfield Reservoir, and housing developments in El Paso County along tributaries of Monument Creek.”
Utah Representative Rob Bishop, the leader of the anti-ESA push, is also unapologetic in his views of the Act.
“It doesn’t work,” he said. “Of all the government programs, it is probably the least effective, and the least efficient. The Endangered Species Act is used now as a litigation tool for controlling land, not actually for rehabilitating species. That’s not part of the act, it’s not what it was intended to do. That is the way it is being used—or abused—now.”
In truth, this philosophy is indicative of a larger anti-environmental platform the Republicans have tied themselves to over the last several elections. In the last four years alone, Republicans have voted against environmental legislation 551 times. Again, always with the argument that they’re just trying to do what’s best for the economic development of the country and the prosperity of simple, hard-working Americans.
Don Barry, a senior vice president at Defenders of Wildlife, is not convinced. “Take it with an enormous, bone-crushing grain of salt when proponents of these bills say, ‘hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for endangered species conservation,’” Barry told Motherboard. “It’s clear who stands to benefit from this. Take your pick: oil and gas leasing, miners, timber guys, real estate developers. It’s a who’s who of individuals who have an economic piece of the action. That’s what’s driving this.”