H.R. 2898, which President Obama has already promised to veto because it does nothing to help Californians, weakens protections for delta smelt, which are nearly extinct in the wild, and for salmon and steelhead species in California. The bill is the latest in a long line of Republican efforts to chip away at the ESA rather than attempting to repeal or modify it through standalone legislation – an attempt that would certainly fail given the law’s 90 percent public approval rating. More information about Republicans’ long, depressing history of trying to weaken the law one species at a time is available below.
“Despite their professed love for our public resources, some of my Republican colleagues just can’t seem to find a species worth saving or habitat worth protecting,” Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva said. “We hear the same wailing and gnashing of teeth every time about how if we could just let this species die already – whether it’s the delta smelt, the sage-grouse or the spotted owl – our economy would finally take off and everyone would suddenly be happier. That’s not how reality works, that’s not what the public wants, and that’s not how a functional Congress does business. This bill is a major disappointment to me, to the people of California, and to the ninety percent of Americans who think the Endangered Species Act is worth preserving. I hope it doesn’t even make it as far as President Obama’s veto pen.”
“The alleged drought-relief bill is yet another example of Republicans turning their backs on science, weakening Endangered Species Act protections, and denying the facts – that climate change is playing a role in conditions many states in the West face – and instead gutting key environmental protections,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.). “We must have a serious conversation about how we solve these issues in Arizona and across the West, but recklessly abandoning environmental protections moves us backwards.”
“This crisis should bring us together to find a long-term, sustainable solution that keeps our water safe, clean, and accessible for all Americans,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). “This bill gambles with the lives of our endangered species and the ecosystems they help to maintain. We need to mitigate the damages from climate change, rather than undermine the Endangered Species Act.”
“In this fourth consecutive year of drought, it is more critical than ever to work in a bipartisan manner to solve California’s water challenges,” said Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), the Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Infrastructure and Environment. “Unfortunately, Republicans chose to not consult California Democrats, water agencies, state agencies, cities, or tribes, and rushed a bill to the floor that produces no new water and focuses on the Central Valley at the expense of the rest of the state. This drought affects all of us, and the Republicans’ water grab would increase pumping to the Central Valley while cutting water deliveries to Southern Californians, who have diligently stepped up their conservation efforts to reduce water consumption. My bill, the Water in the 21st Century Act, would provide actual drought relief to all of California through conservation programs, recycling projects, groundwater improvement operations, stormwater capture solutions, and desalination. Instead of the misguided short-term patch before us today, we must support long-term solutions with shovel-ready jobs that quickly create water.”
“Unfortunately, Republicans have once again treated the record Western drought as a political opportunity and dusted off the same political agenda they’ve pursued for years: weakening the Endangered Species Act, gutting fishery protections, and redirecting water needed by other regions,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans. “This isn’t a responsible drought response, and this closed-door process is not a good way to make policy. In the face of the worst drought in California history, we need Congress to get serious.”
“Legislation to provide drought relief to California should protect both humans and the environment,” said Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. Instead, this bill undermines Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections, threatens important economic sectors in California, and blocks the State of California’s progress in responding to the drought. There is a role the federal government can play in responding to the drought, but what Republicans have done here is pick their favorite sector and region of the state—Central Valley Farmers--and go after the laws they dislike like ESA, all in the name of food security.”
2015: How Republicans Have Attacked the Endangered Species Act One Species at a Time
H.R. 659: Removes ESA protection for the lesser prairie chicken
H.R. 697: Precludes ESA protection for the African elephant through ivory trade bans
H.R. 843: Removes ESA protection for the gray wolf in the Western Great Lakes
H.R. 884: Removes ESA protection for the gray wolf in Wyoming and the Western Great Lakes
H.R. 1589: Removes ESA protection for the northern long-eared bat
H.R. 1735: Precludes ESA protection for the greater sage-grouse
H.R. 1735: Removes ESA protection for the lesser prairie chicken
H.R. 1735: Removes ESA protection for the American burying beetle
H.R. 1985: Removes ESA protection for the gray wolf
H.R. 1997: Precludes ESA protection for the greater sage-grouse
H.R. 2822: Precludes ESA protection for the greater sage-grouse
H.R. 2822: Removes ESA protection for the gray wolf in Wyoming and the Western Great Lakes
H.R. 2822: Removes ESA protection for the gray wolf in the Pacific Northwest and Utah
H.R. 2822: Removes ESA protection for the lesser prairie chicken
H.R. 2822: Removes ESA protection for the northern long-eared bat
H.R. 2822: Removes ESA protection for the Sonoran Desert tortoise
H.R. 2822: Removes ESA protection for the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse
H.R. 2822: Removes ESA protection for six species of freshwater mussels
H.R. 2822: Precludes ESA protection for the African elephant through banning the ivory trade
H.R. 2898: Weakens ESA protection for the Delta smelt
H.R. 2898: Weakens ESA protection for Pacific salmon and steelhead
H.R. 2910: Removes ESA protection for the Mexican gray wolf
How H.R. 2898 Weakens Delta Smelt Protections
- Title I establishes a new process for calculating incidental take (the number of smelt that can be lawfully killed under the Endangered Species Act). Normally, incidental take levels for species are established by federal agencies with expertise based on the best available science. This provision potentially sets a precedent of identifying an incidental take level in law as opposed to the regulating agency with expertise determining the appropriate incidental take level.
- Title I effectively replaces the Endangered Species Act’s jeopardy standard with a new standard that is not clearly defined and is likely less protective. Under the Endangered Species Act, actions jeopardizing the continued existence of a species are prohibited. Title I effectively substitutes this jeopardy standard with a new standard that bars “significant negative impact on long-term survival.” The standard for what is “significant” is not defined and could potentially be a looser standard that would permit some negative affect to the long-term survival of the species. The new standard does not require that activities do not negatively impact the prospects for species recovery, meaning the smelt would be less likely to recover if this bill became law.
- Title I also limits the Department of Interior’s flexibility and agency discretion to lower Delta pumping rates for species protection unless various requirements specified in Title I are met first.
- Requiring the National Marine Fisheries Service to carry out detailed scientific studies to look at ways to change existing protections for salmonid species in order to increase water exports out of the Delta. These studies would be required despite the fact that existing protections have been upheld by independent reviews and the courts as scientifically justified. No new funding is provided to carry out these new scientific studies.
- Overriding protections limiting pumping levels established to avoid jeopardy of salmonid species. Specific pumping levels are required unless it is determined that high pumping levels will have a “significant negative impact” on long-term survival, which is a different standard than the jeopardy standard under the Endangered Species Act. The new standard does not require that activities do not negatively impact the prospects for species recovery, meaning that protected salmon and steelhead would be less likely to recover if this bill became law.