GOP reform package passes House in party-line vote

Republicans pushed legislation through the House yesterday to reform the Endangered Species Act, sparking outrage from conservation groups and Democrats who say it is part of a broader effort to gut the 40-year-old law.

H.R. 4315 includes four bills focused on transparency. Among other updates, they would require federal agencies to publicly release all data used to make listing decisions, report funds spent on ESA-related lawsuits and specify that the "best" scientific data available include state data (Greenwire, April 30).

The package passed on a largely party-line vote of 233-190 with eight Republicans voting against the bill and 14 Democrats voting for it. The chamber also approved two Republican amendments: one to ensure classified information isn't released and another to require the disclosure of all federal funds used to bring a claim in an ESA-related lawsuit.

Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) hailed the bill's passage as a step to "make modest, sensible updates" to an outdated law. The package is the first to come out of a Republican report, spearheaded by Hastings, that makes a slew of recommendations on how to reform ESA (Greenwire, Feb. 4).

"It's been over 40 years since the Endangered Species Act was enacted and over 25 years since the law was renewed by Congress; it's time this law was brought into the 21st Century," Hastings said in a statement.

But conservation groups immediately skewered the bill as part of an "assault" on endangered wildlife. In a statement, Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark argued it would generate "pointless red tape," put in place bureaucratic hurdles and warp the scientific process.

"To vote for this bill is to vote to destroy our nation's commitment to conserve our imperiled natural heritage for generations to come," she said. "Contrary to the claims of the bill's sponsors, this bill does nothing to speed recovery of our nation's most imperiled species."

The Center for Biological Diversity similarly accused Hastings and the bill's supporters of attempting to divert funds from the Fish and Wildlife Service to "punitive reporting requirements." It also repeated a warning from the bill's opponents that a requirement for FWS to post all information -- including geographical data -- related to ESA listing decisions could increase the risk of poaching.

When faced with that assertion at Monday's Rules Committee hearing -- which sent the bill to the House floor -- Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) called it the "dumbest argument I've heard."

"Data means death. That's the connection they're making?" he asked. "I'm sorry, that is the dumbest connection I have ever heard. Whoever came up with that -- good hell."

The bill now heads to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it is unlikely to pass. The White House has also released a veto threat on the bill, calling it "detrimental to the implementation of the ESA."

The Republicans voting against the bill yesterday were: Reps. Vern Buchanan (Fla.), Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Chris Gibson (N.Y.), Michael Grimm (N.Y.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Leonard Lance (N.J.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.) and Chris Smith (N.J.). The Democrats who voted for the bill are: Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Sanford Bishop (Ga.), Jim Costa (Calif.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Bill Enyart (Ill.), John Garamendi (Calif.), Gene Green (Texas), Steven Horsford (Nev.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.) and Filemon Vela (Texas).