Jul 152011

Congress may be heading towards enacting another moratorium on species listings.

The last time that happened, it was 1995. Bill Clinton was president, and then, as now, Republicans controlled the House of Representatives. Clinton declined to veto an omnibus spending bill that prohibited the Fish and Wildlife Service from issuing any final listing rules.

This time around, the Democrat in the White House is Barack Obama, and if history is any guide, counting on him to hold up a spending bill simply because it eliminates funding for species listings is probably a long shot.

But first, the latest listing moratorium has to get through the Senate. Neither the relevant subcommittee in that chamber, nor the full committee, has scheduled a markup of its version of the bill.

The action in the House came on Tuesday, when the House Appropriations Committee passed a spending bill that would prohibit FWS from expending any of its funds to respond to listing petitions, propose species for listing, or finalize proposed listings.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Id.), the chief proponent of the moratorium, said it was the only way to force Congress to reauthorize the Endangered Species Act. The ESA has not been officially reauthorized for 20 years, Simpson said. (Go here for video of the markup. Go here for appropriations committee releases from the majority, and here for statements from the minority.)

That's not atypical. Congress often does not reauthorize legislation when it "sunsets." Instead, laws are kept in effect through the annual appropriations process. Simpson noted that more than a quarter of the laws funded in the Interior/Environment bill need to be reauthorized.

But, said Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), Simpson was only targeting the ESA. Dicks offered an amendment that would have stripped the language from the bill and restored the proposed funding of $24.6 million for listings and critical habitat designations.

It failed, 23-26, with votes in favor from 20 Democrats and three Republicans -- Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (N.J.), Frank Wolf (Va.) and Charles Dent (Pa.). The 26 votes against the amendment were all cast by Republicans.

Here is some language from the House committee report:

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a prime example of an authorization long since expired that is overdue for additional Congressional review. No less than 2,018 species have been added to the threatened and endangered lists over the lifetime of the Act, of which only 21 have been recovered. Any other program with such a poor success rate would have long since been terminated. Originally enacted in a successful effort to save the nation’s iconic bald eagle from extinction, the Act has become so highly contentious, political, and litigious that it has become a policy failure.

Wolves are a case in point. Wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains (NRM) and the Western Great Lakes (WGL) are recovered and should be delisted, in part because States have sound management plans in place, according to the scientific agency tasked by Congress with making those determinations. Nevertheless, third parties that should have been partnering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the States to conserve wolves instead sued the Service over its decision to delist wolves in the NRM, which put the decision into the hands of the courts until an Act of Congress (P.L. 112–10) settled the matter permanently. Now that the Service has proposed to delist wolves in the WGL region, the matter would likely be headed to court but for a provision in this Bill exempting any future WGL wolf delisting determination from judicial review. Similar language has been included with regard to the State of Wyoming so that, should the Service propose to delist wolves after approving a State management plan, the provision included in P.L. 112–10 would be extended to the entire NRM population. If in the future the Service determines that wolves elsewhere in the nation should be delisted, such as in the desert southwest, this Committee will consider similar bill language until such time as Congress has conducted a thorough review and reauthorization of the ESA.

Given an over-reliance by some agencies under the Committee’s jurisdiction to extend authorizations on an annual basis, the Committee reserves the option to limit future funding for unauthorized programs or to discontinue funding altogether. In this fiscal year 2012 appropriation bill, the Committee has exercised that option by decreasing funding for Endangered Species Act implementation; reducing funding for the State and tribal wildlife grants program; and terminating the neotropical migratory bird conservation fund program, the EPA Alaska Native Villages grant program, EPA’s U.S.-Mexico border grant program, and EPA’s environmental education program. The Committee urges all entities with an interest in these and other unauthorized agencies and/or programs to take any and all necessary steps to work with the appropriate authorizing committees in a timely fashion to secure essential congressional authorization.

More links

Defenders of Wildlife release

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Id.) release on subcommittee passage of bill (7/7/11)


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