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Update on Endangered Species Act legislation (10-30-99)

Endangered Species Act (ESA) legislation garners its fair share of attention from conservationists and industry alike.  Likely ESA's largest effect on the geosciences, at least at any kind of professional or institutional level, comes from land use restrictions and mitigations for development that concerns industry. Mitigation has been the focus of a number of House Resource Committee hearings this year. Proponents of reauthorizing ESA and strengthening species protections have continued to run into a brick wall in the form of Rep. Don Young (R-AK), chair of the House Resources Committee which has jurisdiction over ESA legislation.  Young has historically opposed the Endangered Species Act and continues to work against it.

Most Recent Action
With the end of this session of Congress drawing near, the Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Drinking Water continues to explore the issue of ESA reauthorization.  During a hearing held Tuesday, October 19th, Senators listened to various opinions regarding the effectiveness of Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs), and the ease (or difficultly) with which they are approved and implemented.

A main point of contention between witnesses was the Clinton Administration's "No Surprises Rule."  Eric Glitzenstein, who spoke on behalf of Spirit of the Sage Council, Defenders of Wildlife and other environmental organizations, stated that, "In plain terms, the No Surprises policy provides that, when conditions unexpectedly change to the detriment of an endangered species, the species loses and the developer wins every time."  On the other side of the argument was Robert Thornton, general counsel to the Orange County Transportation Corridor Agencies.  "HCPs and the No Surprises Rule are absolutely essential to bringing landowners to the table."  During a question and answers session, the two did agree that local participation, as well as a guaranteed form of funding were essential parts of a successful HCP program.  Written testimonies of these panelists and other speakers can be found on the web at:

Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and the full House Committee on Resources have held a series of hearings looking at the implementation and enforcement of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Witness lists and some testimony submitted is available on the committee's website.

Previous Action in the 106th Congress
Congress has unsuccessfully attempted to reauthorize the Endangered Species Act since 1992. Several bills gained support during the 105th Congress, but still did not have enough momentum to make it through the process. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) sponsored one of those bills last year (H.R. 2351) and introduced similar legislation early in the 106th Congress. Miller introduced H.R. 960, the Endangered Species Recovery Act of 1999, on March 3, 1999. The bill already has 70 cosponsors and the support of "300 environmental, religious, fishing, consumer, and scientific organizations." The main goal of this bill is to promote recovery of species, which was the original intent of the ESA, Miller said, "but it has not been the outcome."

In his introductory remarks, Miller said that "scientifically indefensible conservation plans and permits that are not consistent with -- and in some cases actually undermine -- the recovery of the same species they are trying to recover" are "the main reason why, a quarter of a century after the enactment of the ESA, we have moved only a handful of species off the endangered list." He continued by saying, "This bill will amend the ESA to fix the fundamental flaw in the Act by requiring that incidental take permits, habitat conservation plans, and federal actions [are] consistent with recovery." The bill also provides incentives for both small and large landowners through the implementation of tax credits, deferrals and deductions for habitat protection. S. 960 encourages ecosystem planning on a regional basis through the development of multiple landowner, multiple species conservation plans. The bill contains a provision requiring the federal government to develop a recovery plan within 30 months of a species being listed as endangered.

The bill has been referred to the House Resources Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Don Young (R-AK). Young was not supportive of last year's bill, and is not expected to change his position. "We don't believe this bill has any more chance than last year," observed an industry source.

Young introduced his own ESA-related bill in late March. H.R. 1142 would require the federal government to pay compensation to private property owners when it forcing them to use their land for wildlife habitat under the Endangered Species Act. The Resources Committee held a hearing for his bill on April 14th, but has yet to act further.

With a friendlier tone towards ESA, the Senate Subcommitttee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Drinking Water held a pair of hearings on July 20 and 21, 1999 tiltled: Science of Habitat Conservation Plans: Improving ESA's Tools for Preserving Habitat for Endangered Species. Opening statements and full testimony from participants is on the subcommittee website at  In addition, the full Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has passed S. 1100, A bill to amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to provide that the designation of critical habitat for endangered and threatened species be required as part of the development of recovery plans for those species. The bill now awaits action on the Senate floor.

Sources: Hearing Testimony, the Library of Congress website Thomas, Environmental and Energy Study Institute, Greenwire

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Kasey Shewey White and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program, AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Scott Broadwell, and AGI/AAPG Intern Alison Alcott

Last updated October 30, 1999

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