Proposals To Limit And Reform The Endangered Species Act

Erin Carson, Lead Analyst Friday October 17th 2014

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been a source of controversy since its inception in 1973. The ESA, which aims to conserve threatened and endangered species and recover the habitats where they are found, is largely supported by congressional Democrats and environmental groups, but the law has been criticized by many Republicans and by industry, who say that actions taken to protect the species create economic burdens on local industries and property owners. They also take issue over the number of species listed, the methodologies used to list these species, and how much money should be allocated to assist species adaptation to climate change. 

Authorization for the last ESA expired in 1992,but its requirements remain in force even without reauthorization, since each year funds have been appropriated to implement its administrative provisions. The 113th Congress has not introduced legislation to reauthorize the Act, but Republicans have introduced a number of bills that would limit its reach. In particular, Republicans have decried the ESA's  "best available scientific information" requirement when considering species to be listed agency, because that information is allowed to come from unpublished studies and is not always made publicly available. Lawmakers from both Chambers have introduced a number of bills to address this issue, including H.R. 4315 - the 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Actand its Senate companion bill, S.2635, which would require public disclosure of data.  While no major reforms are expected during the remainder of 113th Congress, the political makeup of the 114th could dictate the extent to which the issue gains traction. The following bills could likely be re-introduced in 2015:

  1. H.R. 4315 - the 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act, sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA): would amend current law to require public online data on the basis for the determination on whether a species is considered endangered or threatened. (Passed the House 7/29/2014 and received in the Senate 7/30/2014).

  2. S.2635 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Actsponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX): would amend current law to require public online data on the basis for the determination on whether a species is considered endangered or threatened. (Referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works 7/22/2014).

  3. H.R. 4319 - Common Sense in Species Protection Actsponsored by Rep. Eric Crawford, (R-AR): would require the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Commerce to exclude an area from designation as a critical habitat to conserve an endangered or threatened species if the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of including the area, unless the failure to designate the area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species. (Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources 3/27/2014).

  4. S.2748, Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act, sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT): would amend the ESA to conform citizen lawsuits with current law.(Referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works 7/31/2014).

  5. H.R.4256 Endangered Species Improvement Act of 2014sponsored by Rep. Chris Steward (R-UT): would require the Department of Interior to count all of species without regard to whether it is found on state, private, or tribal lands as determined by the state when determining if that species is threatened or endangered. (Referred to the Natural Resources Committee 3/14/2014).

  6. H.R.4318 - Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act, sponsored by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI): would replace the current standard for awarding court costs, including attorney fees, in citizen suits with the federal judicial code standard for awarding costs to a prevailing party. (Reported to the House Floor, 7/17/2014).

  7. H.R.576 — Save Endangered Species Act of 2013, sponsored by Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX): would require the Department of Interior to re-issue a 2005 rule that allows exporting, re-importing, and transporting U.S. captive-bred live scimitar-horned oryx, addax, or dama gazelle under certain conditions. (Referred to the House Natural Resources Committee 2/6/2013).

  8. S.2630 — A bill to amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to require disclosure to States of the basis of determinations under such Act, to ensure use of information provided by State, tribal, and countysponsored by Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY): would require disclosure to states on the basis of determinations for endangered species listings, to ensure the use of information provided by state, tribal, and county governments in the decision-making process. (Referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works 7/17/2014.)

  9. S.1731 — Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act, sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY): would require the consent of the governor of a state in which a species is present  if that species is determined as endangered or threatened, among other provisions. (Referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works 11/19/2013).

  10. H.R.3533 — Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act, sponsored by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV): would require the consent of the governor of a state in which a species is present  if that species is determined as endangered or threatened, among other provisions. (Referred to the House Natural Resources Committee 11/19/2013).

  11. S.2752 — Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act, sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT): would require disclosure to congressional committees on the amount of money spent each year on litigation related to the Endangered Species Act. (Referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.)

  12. H.R.4316 — Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act, sponsored by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY): would require disclosure to congressional committees on the amount of money spent each year on litigation related to the Endangered Species Act. (Reported to House Floor 7/17/2014)

  13. H.R.1866 — Enhancement of Species Survival Act, sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-AK): would define the term "enhancement of propagation or survival" to mean directly or indirectly improving a species' sustainability in the wild, among other provisions. (Referred to the House Natural Resources Committee 5/7/2013). 

Want more?

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Summary of Endangered Species Act: http://www2.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-endangered-species-act

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/ 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Expenditure Report (2012, most recent available): http://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/2012.EXP.FINAL.pdf 

Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) Floor Statement on Legislation to Improve the Endangered Species Act: http://naturalresources.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=389621 

ESA Success.org: http://www.esasuccess.org/