GOP Senator Seeks Major Overhaul of Endangered Species Act
Sen. John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, released draft legislation Monday to significantly overhaul the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Under Barrasso's proposal, individual states would be given key authority over the federal program to conserve threatened and endangered species.
"When it comes to the Endangered Species Act, the status quo is not good enough," the Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman said in a press release. "We must do more than just keep listed species on life support—we need to see them recovered. This draft legislation will increase state and local input and improve transparency in the listing process."
The Endangered Species Act, passed by Congress four decades ago, is the nation's safety net for fish, plants and wildlife on the brink of extinction. More than 99 percent of species that have been designated for federal protection continue to exist in the wild today, including the bald eagle, grizzly bear, the leatherback sea turtle and the Florida manatee.
Many Republicans have long sought to weaken the landmark conservation law, as it can block energy production or other developments on critical habitat for endangered species. The current GOP-controlled 115th Congress has introduced dozens of bills that would strip federal protections for specific threatened species or undermine the ESA, according an analysis from the Center for Biological Diversity. That's one such bill every six days in 2017 alone.
Earthjustice anticipated Barrasso's legislative proposal more than a year ago. The environmental law nonprofit said that Barrasso has received substantial campaign contributions from extractive industries that wish to mine or drill land that overlaps with wildlife habitat. Citing campaign finance records, from 2011 until 2016, Barrasso received $458,466 in total campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, plus $241,706 from the mining industry.
Conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife criticized Barrasso's plan, contending that states may lack the legal authority, the resources and sometimes the political resolve to implement the ESA.
"This partisan bill is all about politics, at the expense of sound science and the species that depend on it for survival," said Defenders president and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark in a press release provided to EcoWatch. "It is a reckless power grab designed to wrest away authority from scientists and wildlife experts and give it to states that lack the resources—and sometimes the political will—needed to save wildlife from extinction."
Defenders of Wildlife has multiple objections to the provisions in Barrasso's draft bill. For instance, a team overseeing the recovery of a certain species would not be allowed to have more federal members than state and local officials, who would be nominated by state governors.
It also "relegates scientists, the heart of any science-based recovery effort, to an afterthought requiring majority approval by the State-dominated team," the group said.
The Sierra Club similarly criticized Barrasso's bill.
"Shifting from a basis in science to one blown by political whims leaves wildlife exposed, threatening to reverse decades of work to bring animals back from the brink of extinction," Jordan Giaconia, Sierra Club federal policy associate, said in a press release.
"You need to look no further than Sen. Barrasso's home state of Wyoming, where grizzly bears prematurely stripped of endangered species protections are about to be trophy hunted, to see the risks legislation like this poses," Giaconia added.
Wyoming Votes to Allow First Grizzly Bear Hunt in 40 Years https://t.co/49Bzq6sneM @ConservationOrg @WWF— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1527199510.0
Further, the Casper Star-Tribune reported that the proposal will "prohibit scientific data from being disclosed in a public records request—if it includes a business or private landowner's proprietary information. Otherwise, the scientific basis of decisions with a species is to be public information."
Barrasso's proposed legislation reflects recommendations from the Republican-dominated Western Governors' Association.
"The Western Governors' Association appreciates the Chairman's willingness to productively engage with Governors, and that the Chairman has approached this polarizing topic in an inclusive, thoughtful manner," a February letter from the WGA states. "The proposed bill reflects this fact and offers meaningful, bipartisan solutions to challenging species conservation issues."
As The Hill noted, the governors' process was bipartisan, with Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) signing on to the recommendations. However, other Democratic governors, including California Gov. Jerry Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee objected to its legislative proposals.
The National Wildlife Federation—which supports the Recovering America's Wildlife Act introduced in the House by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) in December—is pushing congressional leaders to prioritize a bipartisan effort.
"The truth is that we, as a nation, could save the vast majority of species through proactive and collaborative conservation efforts on-the-ground, just as we have recovered species like deer, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, ducks, and wild turkeys," said Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation in a press release.
O'Mara continued, "Specifically, we urge the Senate to prioritize bipartisan recommendations which bolster science-based decision-making, foster collaboration among conservation partners, and accelerate on-the-ground habitat restoration projects—and to reject recommendations that erode the scientific integrity that is the bedrock of the Endangered Species Act."
Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute, said in a provided statement that the Endangered Species Act "does not need to be reformed, streamlined, or modernized—it simply needs to be fully funded and given the opportunity to help species achieve recovery."
She added, "Congress must stop meddling with this critically important law and focus instead on ensuring it is fully implemented and enforced."
The Environmental Consequences of Justice Kennedy’s Retirement https://t.co/rJ5qBr0ttz @ClimateReality @SierraClub @NRDC @UCSUSA— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1530196624.0
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
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