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House Republicans Launch Extinction Bills to Cripple Endangered Species Act

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The bald eagle was officially listed as an endangered species in 1967. By 2007, it had recovered. Carl Chapman / CC BY 2.0

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives announced on Thursday a series of bills aimed at profoundly gutting the Endangered Species Act, including provisions making it almost impossible for imperiled species to gain protection and giving states that often oppose endangered species protection veto power over those decisions.


In addition, the bills would turn over recovery efforts to states that often lack the funding or regulatory structure to ensure species' survival, let alone recovery.

"These bills will absolutely push wildlife over the edge and into extinction," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Republicans are turning their back on the most vulnerable species in the country just to please polluters and other powerful interests. It's disgusting and repugnant."

More than 75 legislative attacks have been launched against the Endangered Species Act since Trump took office—and more than 300 since 2011, when Republicans took over the U.S. House of Representatives.

Today's attacks are being led by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce and other House Republicans beholden to oil and gas and other extractive industries.

Among the bills, Rep. Westerman's "Petition Act" would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declare a petition backlog if it is presented with too many species in need of protection and then suspend any deadlines responding to those petitions and prohibit consideration of any subsequently filed.

"The problem isn't a backlog of petitions, it's a backlog of species that desperately need help and a government that hasn't moved fast enough to prevent their extinction," Greenwald said. "If Representative Westerman and his patrons in the oil and gas industry truly wanted to see the backlog addressed and extinction avoided, they would provide the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service more money to help the many species waiting for protection, species like American wolverines and lesser prairie chickens."

Other bills give the states undue influence over what should be scientific decisions involving the very survival of species, known as speed delisting of species, which would certainly result in species prematurely losing protection. Rep. Gosar's bill would callously exempt dams and their associated reservoirs from designation of critical habitat, despite the frequent importance of the impounded rivers for many species, ranging from salmon to yellow-billed cuckoos.

The Endangered Species Act is the most successful wildlife conservation law in the world. It has staved off extinction for 99 percent of the species under its care and put hundreds on the road to recovery.

"If you love whales or birds or bears or rare plants, you have to love the Endangered Species Act because it's the safety net that keeps many of them from disappearing into oblivion," Greenwald said. "These Republicans' efforts to tear apart the Endangered Species Act go directly against the will of the American people and will rob future generations of countless species."

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