House Passes Bill Aimed at Gutting Endangered Species Act

Americans turn to the Senate to protect wildlife


Susan Holmes, Earthjustice, 202-667-4500

The U.S. House of Representatives took a dangerous and short-sighted step today in passing legislation seeking to cut the heart out of the Endangered Species Act. The bill, H.R. 3824, not only threatens to eviscerate the act; it could also set a precedent for the undermining of other vital environmental laws. The bill passed with 158 Democrats and 34 Republicans opposing.

“Today’s vote represents a rejection of the values held by the vast majority Americans: that we have a responsibility to protect all species and the special places they call home,” said Susan Holmes, senior legislative representative at Earthjustice. “This bill does so much damage to the Endangered Species Act that our grandchildren may never be able to experience much of the unique wildlife that defines America. If the Senate approves and the President signs this bill into law, he will be signing a death warrant for treasured American wildlife like the Florida panther, the California condor, and some Pacific salmon stocks.”

For more than 30 years, the Endangered Species Act has served as a safety net for wildlife, fish, and plants that are on the brink of extinction. H.R. 3824 was sponsored by long-time enemy of the act Representative Richard Pombo (R-CA). The law has protected hundreds of species from extinction, including the bald eagle, the Florida manatee, and the grey wolf.

According to a recent study in the scientific journal Natural History, just 22 of the 1,370 species listed under the act have gone extinct. That’s less than one-tenth of the 227 species that would have gone extinct without the act, the authors said.

“Rep. Pombo’s bill cuts huge holes in this safety net,” Holmes said. “If the Senate fails to do the right thing and reject this bill, America stands to lose hundreds of species of rare plants and animals. I don’t want to have to someday explain to my daughter why we let animals like the whooping crane and the southern sea otter vanish, and I’m sure most Americans feel the same way.”

“The bill would force hardworking taxpayers to write blank checks to big developers and corporations simply for obeying the law that prevents them from unreasonably wiping out species,” said Glenn Sugameli, Earthjustice’s Senior Legislative Counsel.

Among other things, H.R. 3824 seeks to:

  • Repeal one of the most important parts of the Endangered Species Act’s safety net—the protection of critical habitat;

  • Allow political appointees to manipulate science to fit their political agenda by allowing the Secretary of the Interior to define “best available science”;

  • Eliminate the vital check and balance role wildlife agencies play in reviewing many federal projects that could push threatened and endangered species further toward extinction;

  • Use taxpayer dollars to pay developers, the oil industry and others for simply obeying the law and not killing or injuring imperiled wildlife or destroying the places they call home; and

  • Exempt Pesticides from Environmental Review under the Endangered Species Act.

“If Pombo’s version of the law had been signed by President Nixon in 1973, many of the species that were hanging on by a thread three decades ago — including wolves, bald eagles, grizzly bears, manatees, and whooping cranes — might already be gone from the lower-48 states,” Holmes said. “We’ve managed to keep these marvelous animals around for another generation to enjoy. Now it’s up to us to make sure that no generation will ever have to look back and wonder why we let our wildlife disappear.”

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