House Dems Push Legislation to Protect Endangered Species

A pair of courting desert pupfish. (Paul V. Loiselle via Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Climate scientists believe Earth is in the middle of its sixth mass extinction event, and in light of that, House Democrats Tuesday renewed calls for legislation that would reverse the Trump administration’s rollback of key protections for endangered wildlife and plant species.

In August, Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt finalized rules rescinding long-standing Endangered Species Act protections. In response to that, Representative Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., recently introduced a countermeasure: H.R. 4348, also known as the PAW and FIN Act.

If passed, the bill would reverse the limitations placed on the Endangered Species Act by re-emphasizing science-driven policy and data instead of focusing on economically-driven priorities.

But before a bill can head to the House for its consideration, support must first be curried at the committee level, which is where Grivalja and other Democratic lawmakers made their case Tuesday for the passage of H.R 4348 and a slew of other environment and climate-centric bills. 

“We’re in the middle of a mass extinction. Our lives and livelihoods depend on thriving biodiversity,” Grivalja told Stephen Guertin, deputy director of policy for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at a hearing in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife. 

In his testimony before the subcommittee Tuesday, Guertin defended the Interior Department’s decision to revise the Endangered Species Act, saying it was a means to achieve necessary “transparency” on listing and delisting species and ensured that habitat designations were made “reasonably” and without any undue influence.

But the threat of undue influence during decision-making is precisely what Grijalva – the subcommittee’s chairman – has been concerned about for months, he said.

The subcommittee has requested records related to the Endangered Species Act revision process, including any records that may show what type of public outreach, if any, was conducted with stakeholders. 

“You can either put the concerns to rest by providing the documents or validate the suspicion,” Grijalva said.

Guertin only promised to run the message back to Secretary Bernhardt.

Passage of PAW and FIN is critical, according to Representative Ed Case, D-Hawaii, because the U.S. is home to some of the most rare and endangered creatures known to man.

“Of the 1,275 species listed on the Endangered Species Act list – including both plants and animals – 503 are from Hawaii, 14 are considered threatened and Hawaii is home to 40% of the species listed,” Case said.

Despite this trove of national natural treasures, under the Trump administration, Case noted, Hawaii receives only five percent of funding for species protection. 

Other related bills, such as Grijalva’s Extinction Prevention Act, were also discussed Tuesday. This bill would establish four grant programs funded at $5 million annually for conservation of more obscure endangered species or those that are “less charismatic,” the Arizona Democrat said, including desert fish or the North American butterfly.

The legislation is a stopgap for lackluster federal funding. According to a 2016 study by the Center for Biological Diversity, Congress provided just over three percent of all funding U.S. Fish and Wildlife scientists estimated was needed to recover endangered species.

Other bills, such as H.R. 925, known as the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act – which would allocate funding for additional wetlands conservation projects – will also undergo committee review before facing additional scrutiny in the House. 

Democratic lawmakers plan to renew calls to pass H.R. 2854, the Protect Our Refuges Act, which is a bill that proposes stopping insecticide use inside of wildlife refuges.

Other bills on the Democratic agenda include the Safeguarding America’s Future and Environment Act – H.R. 2748 – which proposes the formation of an “integrated national approach” for extreme weather and climate change response.

Marjorie Mulhall, legislative director for Earthjustice, who also testified Tuesday, discussed the crossroads Congress now finds itself at with environmental protections.

“Today a divided House looks down two possible paths: one in which we follow the will of the American people who overwhelmingly support protecting imperiled wildlife facing extinction, and the other in which we do the bidding of extractive industries like oil and gas and push endangered species off the cliff,” she said.

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