September 23, 2020

The Honorable John Barrasso
Chairman
Environment and Public Works Committee
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Tom Carper
Ranking Member
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. 

Sincerely, 

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 

Earthjustice 

Endangered Habitats League 

Endangered Species Coalition 

Environment America 

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 

Maine Audubon 

Mass Audubon 

National Parks Conservation Association 

Natural Resources Defense Council 

NH Audubon 

Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides

NY4WHALES 

Ocean Conservancy 

Oceana 

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 

Sierra Club 

Southern Environmental Law Center 

Turtle Island Restoration Network 

Union of Concerned Scientists 

Western Environmental Law Center 

Western Watersheds Project 

WildEarth Guardians 

Wilderness Workshop 

Wildlands Network 

Wildlife Conservation Society 

Wolf Conservation Center