Senator Barrasso Hopes To Be In The Forefront Of Endangered Species Reforms

Jul 20, 2018

The Trump administration is proposing sweeping changes to the Endangered Species Act, but they’re actually late to the party - Wyoming Senator John Barrasso has been leading the GOP effort within Congress to revamp the decades-old legislation that was set up to protect animals on the brink of extinction back in 1973. It hasn’t been reauthorized since 1992 and Barrasso wants to overhaul it.

“What I want to do is modernize and update the Endangered Species Act so that we actually have recovery plans in place to help species fully recover rather than keep them in the intensive care unit.”

Barrasso’s bill calls for improved transparency in the endangered species listing process, and it seeks to include more state and local input in the process. Barrasso said state-level conservation efforts are going well and bureaucrats in Washington often just get in the way.

“The substantial resources of the states are not located in Washington, D.C. These state agencies are in the field every day working to protect wildlife.”

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead was in Washington recently to testify on behalf of Barrasso’s draft legislation. He was Chair of the Western Governors Association and from that post, he led an effort to gain support for an effort similar to Barrasso’s, which is why he’s supportive of this new bill.

“Addressing root problems would obviate the need for Congress to intervene with respect to individual species. That would be better legislation, better policy and better for wildlife. The chairman’s discussion draft offers real bipartisan, which is so critical, way to correct deficiencies in the ESA while painting science-based decision making.”

But Democrats beg to differ. Senator Tom Carper of Delaware is the committee’s lead Democrat. He says the proposed bill has numerous flaws, including a lack of resources.

“The draft legislation we are holding this hearing on today does not provide a meaningful funding solution for species conservation. Instead, the legislation proposes several changes to the act that cause, for me, some real concerns.”

New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker says the new Endangered Species rewrite is actually unwinding a vital federal law.

“Given this extinction crisis, I just believe that we’re considering a bill that in its total conception is taking us in the wrong direction. A step in the wrong direction.” 

Instead, Booker and other Democrats say the biggest problem remains a lack of resources on the ground and they say that’s the federal government’s role. But Governor Mead pushed back against those cries – to him, the ESA overhaul will boost conservation without new spending.

“So now we have an opportunity to improve the Endangered Species Act for wildlife and for people. We can encourage innovative conservation practice that obviate the need to list species. We can facilitate faster and more cost-effective species recovery.”  

Barrasso’s bill doesn’t do away with the federal role, as some critics contend. Under it, both the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Commerce maintains the power to overrule states’ recommendations in regards to the ESA. While critics disagree, Barrasso maintains his bill is a compromise. “For 30 years defenders of the status quo have prevented prior congresses and administrations from improving the law.”

But if the Trump administration gets its way, the Barrasso compromise could look better in time.