As one of our nation’s most important bedrock environmental laws, the Endangered Species Act has been 99 percent effective in its intended purpose of preventing the extinction of imperiled plants and wildlife placed under its protection. Yet, members of this Congress havealready proposed more than 80 bills, amendments and policy “riders” that would dramatically weaken the act. Thirteen of these anti-Endangered Species Act measures were added as riders to the FY16 House and Senate bills funding the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies, while three more were awaiting a recorded vote when the House bill was pulled from the floor and likely would have passed.
Together, these proposed measures would block or remove protections for America’s most imperiled wildlife, including gray wolves, sage-grouse, and the lesser prairie chicken, and undermine the strength and effectiveness of the Act.
Collectively, these proposals represent the most sweeping attack on the Endangered Species Act since this landmark conservation law was passed 42 years ago.
The torrent of new attacks underscores just how out of touch Congress is with the views of their constituents. Time and time again, polling shows the vast majority of Americans strongly believe in upholding the Endangered Species Act, and they want their elected officials to vote accordingly. A national poll released in June of 2015 found that 90 percent of American voters support the Endangered Species Act. Further, 68 percent said they are more likely to vote for a member of Congress who supports environmental safeguards like the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
So who benefits from these efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act? The answer is simple: polluting industries and other special economic interests that have long blamed federal regulation for interfering with their bottom line. Unfortunately, many members of this Congress are all too willing to do their bidding. A recent statement from Representative Valadao (R-CA) makes the motives of anti-wildlife members of Congress all too clear: "We in Congress have an opportunity to actually adjust, and change, and hopefully someday, repeal the Endangered Species Act..."
The influence and control that powerful corporate interests now have over our elected officials is quickly becoming the status quo for deciding the fate of wildlife conservation policies for this country, and it must be stopped. Protections for our nation’s imperiled wildlife should not be used as a bartering chip in Congress to negotiate government budgets.
The onus is also on the Obama administration. As it negotiates final FY 2016 spending legislation with members of Congress, the administration must stand strong and reject all riders that undermine the Endangered Species Act, including those weakening or blocking protections for specific imperiled species. During last year’s last-minute, closed-door appropriations negotiations, a rider delaying a potential listing for four species of sage-grouse by a year was slipped into the “CRomnibus” package to fund the government. Three years before that, a rider that removed federal protections for gray wolves in Idaho and Montana was similarly slipped into the final spending package for FY 2011. These previous riders have seemingly opened up a proverbial Pandora’s box of countless other attacks on individual species and other proposals to undermine the Act as the final government spending deal-making occurs.
The record number of anti-ESA riders is part of a broader congressional assault on environmental laws in the appropriations process. The President should reject any appropriations bill that includes riders that damage our air, lands, waters and wildlife.
We hope you will consider editorializing on the extreme anti-wildlife agenda in Congress and urge the White House not to sacrifice our treasured wildlife and natural heritage to appease the minority of polluting industries and special economic interests that stand to benefit. Forsaking the Endangered Species Act is not what the American people want. Our imperiled wildlife, the habitats they call home and future generations of Americans have the most to lose.