WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senate Western Caucus Chair Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) led a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to highlight their concerns with proposals to roll back crucial reforms to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The senators sent this letter after the Biden administration announced it would make changes to the ESA, which would create more red tape and overly burdensome regulations. The senators also asked for the comment period on these proposals to be extended to give those impacted by the regulations enough time to address their concerns.
“We urge your agencies to fully consider the impact these proposed rules will have on communities across the nation. Instead of returning the ESA to an overly burdensome and ineffective statute, the Biden administration must prioritize efforts that empower private landowners and other stakeholders to achieve the goal of removing species from the ESA list,” the Senators said in the letter.
Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY) Pete Ricketts (R-NE), Steve Daines (R-MT), James Risch (R-ID), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), James Lankford (R-OK), Mike Lee (R-UT), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ted Cruz (R-TX), John Hoeven (R-ND) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) also signed the letter.
In May, the U.S. Senate passed a Congressional Review Act resolution sponsored by Lummis to retain the regulatory definition of habitat within the ESA. The Senate also passed Congressional Review Act resolutions to overturn the northern long-eared bat and western prairie chicken’s listing as endangered under the ESA.
For a copy of the letter, click here. The full text is below.
Dear Director Williams and Assistant Administrator Coit:
We write to express our strong concerns with three proposals issued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), two of which were jointly issued with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), that would roll back crucial reforms to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and revert to burdensome and outdated standards. Given the outsized impact these policy changes will have on communities across the nation, it is imperative that FWS and NMFS extend the comment period to allow all affected stakeholders the opportunity to voice their concerns.
In 2019, the Trump Administration rightfully recognized the qualitative differences between threatened and endangered species. In doing so, FWS rescinded the prior “blanket rule” that automatically granted endangered-level protections to species only listed as threatened. The existing rule provides for greater flexibility by ensuring FWS crafts guidelines for each threatened wildlife species on a case-by-case basis, ensuring only necessary prohibitions and restrictions are in place. Restoring the blanket rule will lead to more red tape and burdensome regulations.
Similarly, the 2019 reforms to Section 4 regarding listing and delisting of species and designation of critical habitat were a welcome change. These reforms removed constraints that previously prohibited agencies from researching and sharing the economic impacts of a listing determination under the ESA. The current rule also provides circumstances where the FWS and NMFS may find that designating critical habitat for a species would not be prudent. The proposal in question removes all these flexibilities along with a mandate that the agencies again must designate unoccupied areas as critical habitat.
Finally, the 2019 update to Section 7 clarified the interagency consultation process and codified alternative consultation mechanisms to provide greater efficiency for how ESA consultation are conducted. The rule also established standards ensuring that effects analysis for proposed actions is limited only to “activities that are reasonably certain to occur” and must be backed by “clear and substantial information.” Eliminating these important clarifications will only result in further one-size-fits-all responses to a threatened or endangered species benefitting no involved party, not the least of which is the species in question.
We urge your agencies to fully consider the impact these proposed rules will have on communities across the nation. Instead of returning the ESA to an overly burdensome and ineffective statute, the Biden Administration must prioritize efforts that empower private landowners and other stakeholders to achieve the goal of removing species from the ESA list. In the meantime, we urge you to extend the comment period on these proposed rules until meaningful input can be provided from all affected parties.