Wyoming Congressional Republicans Defend Positions On Climate And Endangered Species

May 17, 2019

A new United Nation's report compiled from scientific data across the globe predicts that if unchecked, manmade climate change could cost around one million species their very existences. That caught the attention of Democrats and Republicans, but that doesn't mean Wyoming lawmakers are changing their tunes.

The UN warning is dire: Scientists across the globe now say climate change could reshape the very planet we inhabit. And if we lose one plant or animal species it causes ripple effects up and down the food chain. That new report was greeted with crickets from the Trump White House. But, while hopping the tram under the Capitol, Wyoming Senator John Barrasso said it caught his attention.

"Well, I thought it was an important report," Barrasso says.

Just a few years back Barrasso was denying humanity's role in the globe's rapidly rising temperatures, but he recently came around to agreeing with the scientific consensus that climate change is in fact spurred on by humans. And while he says he cares about the preservation of species of all kinds, Barrasso pushed a proposal to overhaul the Endangered Species Act that the Union of Concerned Scientists says "would fundamentally weaken" the act. And even in light of the UN report, Barrasso says he stands by that PROPOSAL that critics say would gut the act by giving local officials "veto" authority over federal regulations intended to protect species.

"In about 98 or 99% of all counties there is a species on the list that is interfering with commerce," Barrasso says.

That's why Democrats remain dubious of Barrasso and other Republicans who say they've been converted and now see the scientific light surrounding climate change. And freshman New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is skeptical.

"I think one of the issues here is that we have to be careful if they're actually moderating their position or if they're just updating an existing position of climate denial to climate delaying," Ocasio-Cortez says.

Ocasio-Cortez is pushing the Green New Deal that envisions an American economy in the coming decades that's run 100 percent on renewable energy. She says while Barrasso and a few other Republicans are now changing their tunes, they're not changing their actions.

"The actual problem is that since it's so politically toxic right now to say, 'I don't believe in climate change,' as they've been doing for 10 years, now all of a sudden they're changing their position on a dime, and they're saying, 'Oh, well, I believe in climate change, but I think that we need to have solutions on a 50- or 100-year time scale,' which is not that much different than denying the severity of the actual issue at hand," Ocasio-Cortez says.

While Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney wasn't made available for an interview, last year she supported legislation to help streamline the Endangered Species Act (or ESA) and she spoke in favor of it on the House floor.

"In my home state of Wyoming, Mr. Speaker, we are all too familiar with the abuses of the Endangered Species Act. The goal of the ESA should be to recover species - not place restrictive and unnecessary burdens and protections on threatened and endangered species into perpetuity," Cheney said.

Like Barrasso, Cheney says she supports overhauling the Endangered Species Act. And that has Democrat's heads spinning. Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse serves on the Environment Committee that Barrasso chairs and he says top Republicans like Barrasso remain bought and paid for by the nation's top polluters from the oil and gas industries.

"They remain entirely in the thrall of the fossil fuel industry and its climate denial apparatus, it's so in their crooked appointments to executive positions, it's so in the litigation positions they take and it's so, unfortunately, in the reason they've abandoned leadership in the international community on this issue," Whitehouse says.

Barrasso brushes aside those charges. He says last year he helped pass the Wild Act - a bipartisan bill that was signed into law to establish "prize competitions to prevent illegal poaching and trafficking, manage invasives, promote conservation, and protect endangered wildlife."

"So there's a lot of work that we're doing and we need to do more," Barrasso says.

And Barrasso isn't done there. He wants to update the Endangered Species Act as soon as possible so that scientists in Washington can't tell local and regional officials how to best protect endangered animals.

"We just need to modernize this in a way that you can say, if a species goes on the list, 'What's the recovery plan? What's the way to get that species back and then get it off the list?' Because right now we have a system where something gets on the list and there may not be a recovery plan in place. It's like putting someone in the intensive care unit without a plan to heal and get better and go home," Barrasso says.

Democrats counter that the entire planet is in the intensive care unit, and they can't understand why Republicans like Barrasso and Cheney won't even help tie a tourniquet.