September 23, 2020
The Honorable John Barrasso
Environment and Public Works Committee
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Tom Carper
Environment and Public Works Committee
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Chairman Barrasso and Ranking Member Carper:
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meets today for a hearing on Chairman Barrasso’s legislation entitled the “Endangered Species Act Amendments of 2020” (S. 4589). This bill would fundamentally undermine the Endangered Species Act (ESA) which has proven highly effective at preventing the extinction of species under its protection. The ESA is also broadly popular with the American people – poll after poll has shown broad support, the most recent peer-reviewed research showing support from roughly four out of five Americans. 1Jeremy T. Bruskotter et al., Support for the U.S. Endangered Species Act Over Time and Space: Controversial Species Do Not Weaken Public Support for Protective Legislation, Conservation Letters, e12595 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12595 At a time when the planet is facing an unprecedented extinction crisis caused by human driven factors, we should be mobilizing to reverse this crisis rather than weakening our most important tool to address it. We write on behalf of our millions of members and supporters to express strong opposition to this legislation.
Our nation and our planet face an extinction crisis of epic proportion; scientists predict that half of all species will be facing extinction by the end of the century. Study after study in the last several years have warned about this crisis. Last year’s global assessment on the status of biodiversity and ecosystem services found that 1 in 8 species on Earth – about 1 million species – are facing extinction.2https://ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment And just last week, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity released an updated report warning that humanity is at a crossroads and the extinction crisis is intensifying.3https://www.cbd.int/gbo5?ftag=MSF0951a18 In releasing this new report, Inger Andersen, U.N. under-secretary-general and executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme said that protecting nature is still entirely within humanity’s reach but we need to start now: “We can no longer afford to cast nature to the side. Now is the time for a massive step up, conserving, restoring and using biodiversity fairly and sustainably. If we do not, biodiversity will continue to buckle under the weight of land- and sea-use change, overexploitation, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species. This will further damage human health, economies and societies, with particularly dire impacts on indigenous communities.” 4https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/speech/protecting-nature-entirely-within-humanitys-reach-work-must-start-now?ftag=MSF0951a18
The world has a moral imperative to collaborate on strong actions to mitigate and adapt to the biodiversity crisis. The preservation and support for our bedrock conservation laws – including the ESA – is a vital component of the solution. The U.S. should mobilize relevant agencies across the Federal government to develop a strategy to address this crisis including fully funding the ESA – programs to recover species listed under the ESA have been consistently and significantly underfunded, with recent estimates indicating species receive less than one-quarter of funding scientists indicate is required. 5See Gerber LR. 2016. Conservation triage or injurious neglect in endangered species recovery. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 113:3563–3566 and an updated estimate of recovery cost requirements at https://defenders-cci.org/files/ESA_recovery_costs_2019.pdf
Unfortunately, Senator Barrasso’s bill goes in the opposite direction, dramatically weakening this effective and popular wildlife conservation law:
- The bill is all about politics, not science, and will not improve the conservation of endangered species.
- This bill seeks to impose overweening and inappropriate state control over the most important processes to list, protect and recover imperiled species under the ESA and adds additional bureaucratic barriers to listing but removes barriers to delisting.
- It shields critical decisions to delist species from judicial review, precluding the ability of the public to hold federal decision makers accountable to the law.
- It replaces the current listing process with a far lengthier process. Species already wait years for protection.
- It replaces federal management of recovery planning and implementation with layers of recovery goal development, recovery plan development, and implementation plan development, each dominated by states.
- It weighs down the already over-burdened federal agencies endeavoring to protect and recover imperiled species with arbitrary and infeasible deadlines and requirements, making their jobs — and the prospects for conserving endangered species — even more daunting.
In particular, this damaging bill seeks to impose state control over the most important processes to list, protect, and recover imperiled species under the ESA — even though states already have broad opportunities to engage in the ESA process. Moreover, states lack the legal authority, resources and political resolve to implement the ESA. A 2017 study 6http://www.law.uci.edu/centers/cleanr/news-pdfs/cleanr-esa-report-final.pdf by the U.C. Irvine School of Law found that:
- Only 4% of states have authority to promote the recovery of imperiled species;
- Only 5% of spending on imperiled species is by the states; and
- Only 10% of states have significant habitat safeguards.
In recent years, there has been a parade of attacks on the ESA both by opponents in Congress and the current administration. Given the tremendous success of the ESA and the overwhelming need to address the unprecedented extinction crisis, there is simply no reason for legislation that would do nothing other than satisfy political interests in undermining this crucial wildlife conservation law. Again, we strongly oppose this legislation. Thank you for your attention.
Alaska Wilderness League Action
Animal Welfare Institute
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Bat Conservation International
Born Free USA
Center for Biological Diversity
Central Colorado Wilderness Coalition
Christian Council of Delmarva
Clean Water Action
Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
Conservation Council For Hawaii
Conservation Law Foundation
Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship
Defenders of Wildlife
Endangered Habitats League
Endangered Species Coalition
Environmental Protection Information Center
Friends of Blackwater, Inc.
Friends of the Earth
Friends of the Sonoran Desert
Gaviota Coast Conservancy
Grand Junction Area Broadband – Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Humane Society Legislative Fund
Humane Society of the United States
International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute
John Muir Project
Juniata Valley Audubon Society
Klamath Forest Alliance
League of Conservation Voters
Los Padres ForestWatch
National Parks Conservation Association
Natural Resources Defense Council
Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides
Oceanic Preservation Society
Oil Change International
Resource Renewal Institute
RESTORE: The North Woods
Rocky Mountain Recreation Initiative
Rocky Mountain Wild
San Juan Citizens Alliance
San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council
Save Our Allegheny Ridges
Save the Manatee Club
Southern Environmental Law Center
Turtle Island Restoration Network
Union of Concerned Scientists
Western Environmental Law Center
Western Watersheds Project
Wildlife Conservation Society
Wolf Conservation Center
- 1Jeremy T. Bruskotter et al., Support for the U.S. Endangered Species Act Over Time and Space: Controversial Species Do Not Weaken Public Support for Protective Legislation, Conservation Letters, e12595 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12595
- 5See Gerber LR. 2016. Conservation triage or injurious neglect in endangered species recovery. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 113:3563–3566 and an updated estimate of recovery cost requirements at https://defenders-cci.org/files/ESA_recovery_costs_2019.pdf