Endangered Species Act (10-4-05)
The implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA)
has long been a heated issue for environmentalists, industry and Congress. Partisan
differences have prevented Congress from updating the act since it
was due for reauthorization in 1992. Over the past year, however,
Republican gains in both Houses have given new opportunities for overhauling
the act. ESA's impacts the geosciences through restricting land use
and requiring environmental mitigation for industrial development.
Many energy projects in the Western United States have been delayed
or stopped because of concerns involving endangered species. Geoscientists
are also involved as scientific experts in fields that intersect with
endangered species studies, such as the effect of increased sedimentation
and changes to stream morphology on salmon in the Pacific Northwest.
Some groups have questioned the effectiveness of ESA in light of the
relatively small number of species that have been taken off the list
since its enactment in 1973. Meanwhile, supporters argue that the
act is successful since even fewer listed species have gone extinct.
The recent focus of the House Resource Committee has been on the designation
of "critical habitat" for endangered species and providing
reimbursement for landowners affected by ESA..
On September 30, 2005, the House passed the Threatened
and Endangered Species Recovery Act (TESRA), 229-193. The legislation,
which was introduced by House Resources Committee Chairman Richard
Pombo (R-CA), would bring about major changes to the 30 year old Endangered
Species Act. TESRA would eliminate requirements for "critical
habitat," areas of land preserved to prevent habitat loss, and
instead give the Fish and Wildlife Service the authority to draft
individual "recovery plans" for each listed species. The
legislation would also provide compensation to landowners for the
value of land that cannot be developed due to the presence of endangered
species. Proponents of the bill say it will increase the efficacy
of the Endangered Species Act and end needless penalties for landowners.
Opponents claim, however, that it will be impossible to protect many
species without critical habitat designations, and that landowner
payments will create a huge taxpayer burden and discourage the future
listing of species.
A substitute amendment proposed by Science Committee
Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Representative George Miller
(D-CA), narrowly failed to pass 216-206. The amendment included many
of the changes in Pombo's legislation, but would eliminate the landowner
reimbursement and would increase the enforcement power behind "recovery
plans". TESRA faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where
there appears to be less support for its radical changes to the ESA.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe
(R-OK) has declared his support for the act, but Lincoln Chafee (R-RI),
who heads the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the ESA, says he
has some concerns with the new legislation. Chafee is currently waiting
to hear from an advisory committee meeting in Keystone, CO before
he begins drafting a Senate version of ESA reform legislation.(9/30/05)
The Endangered Species Act
of 1973 is a comprehensive bill intended to protect threatened or
endangered species. ESA itself has always been controversial
among industry and environmentalists, but recently the definition
of "critical habitat" has confused the issue. The
habitat" within in the Endangered Species Act allows for the protection
of threatened or endangered species by setting aside a specific geographic
area. ESA states that the federal agencies must make these designations
based on the best scientific data in addition to assessing the economic
impact of such decisions, and Congress has not passed legislation
to refine the definition of critical habitat or sound science in over
thirty years. Recent court rulings on critical habitat have
confused the issue by sending contradictory messages. Some rulings
charge the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)
with failing to protect endangered species, while other cases are
throwing out previous litigation that sets aside critical habitat
areas. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, only 152
of 1,256 threatened or endangered species have the critical habitat
designation. Further information on Congressional Activity related
to the ESA can be found at the National
Library for the Environments website.
Additional information on the ESA
from the 107th Congress.
Sources: E&E Daily, Greenwire
Contributed by Katie Ackerly, Government Affairs Staff, and Peter
Douglas, 2005 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern
Background section contains information from the 107th
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI
Government Affairs Program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last updated on October 4, 2005.