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Champions of the Endangered Species Act in Congress

Last week, Earthjustice and 20+ partner organizations hosted an event to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act and honor some of the most important champions of this visionary law.

On Dec. 28, 1973, Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together to pass the ESA—one of the most effective environmental laws ever enacted—with near-unanimous support. The Act was then signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon.

The crowd at our anniversary event—held at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.—was comprised of members of Congress and their staff, federal wildlife agency staff, and representatives from environmental and conservation groups, among others.

Attendees were treated to opening remarks by author Terry Tempest Williams, who spoke eloquently about the purpose and great importance of the ESA.

Then, six ESA champions—nearly all of whom are members of Congress—received awards:

  • Sen. Ben Cardin (Maryland)
  • Rep. John Dingell (Michigan)
  • Rep. Jim Moran (Virginia)
  • Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (Pennsylvania)
  • Rep. Mike Thompson (California)
  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Earthjustice’s Marty Hayden, VP of Policy and Legislation, poses with Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia.Earthjustice’s Marty Hayden, VP of Policy and Legislation, poses with Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia.

Earthjustice’s own Marty Hayden, Vice President of Policy and Legislation, presented the award to Rep. Jim Moran, Marty’s congressman. Rep. Moran is the senior Democrat on the House Interior/EPA Appropriations Subcommittee and has been instrumental in defeating anti-ESA riders proposed again and again in the congressional appropriations context.

As part of his award presentation, Marty shared this great quote from the Rep. Moran in 2005, when Moran and other congressional allies fought hard against a terrible bill that would have severely weakened the ESA:

If we cannot find a way to live in harmony and conserve our natural resources in a sustainable way, we humans may, too, be doomed to extinction. The Endangered Species Act is a litmus test on the degree to which we are willing to conserve our livable environment.

Another big highlight of the night was awardee Rep. John Dingell’s (Michigan) acceptance speech. Rep. Dingell is the longest-serving member of Congress ever. He is also an original author of the ESA. So it was quite moving to hear this leader, now 87 years old, reflect on a visionary law he brought into being four decades ago. Rep. Dingell closed his remarks by addressing younger people in the audience, stating that the fight is now ours to protect for future generations the “important and precious” natural treasures that “we so uniquely enjoy as citizens of the greatest nation in the world.”

Staff and board members from the more than 20 event host organizations pose with Representative Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Representative Paul Tonko of New York.

Staff and board members from the more than 20 event host organizations pose
with Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Rep. Paul Tonko of New York.

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