By Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife
Rep. Doc Hastings recently released a report and a set of proposals that would effectively gut the Endangered Species Act (ESA), severely curtailing the act’s ability to protect the nation’s most imperiled species. He calls it ESA “reform,” but the real goal of Rep. Hastings’ proposals is to drastically weaken or eliminate key protections in the ESA, long a goal of corporate special interests and polluters.
If you think that you have seen this “movie” before, you have. Just like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, I feel like I have relived this ESA “reform” moment numerous times before. While the lead characters may differ, the script is always the same. About every six years or so, some anti-environmental member of Congress decides that the time has come to “reform” the ESA into oblivion. Lest they be accused of championing the extinction of manatees or whooping cranes, they always first profess their deep love and support for endangered species, never hesitating to list some of the most beloved charismatic ones. Then they roll up their sleeves and lay out their plans for a step-by-step dismantling of the law.
There are important reasons though, why the ESA has endured. Decades ago, when America faced smog-choked skies, polluted waterways and the near extinction of some of our most iconic species like the bald eagle and grizzly bear, the nation collectively decided that our treasured natural resources needed protection, that they were too valuable to our way of life and our economy to let perish or further degrade. Americans came together to safeguard our nation’s air, water and wildlife and our leaders passed some of this country’s bedrock environmental laws: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
But today, members of Congress like Rep. Hastings have turned their backs on the values our nation embraced decades ago when we passed these laws. They have forgotten or forsaken their responsibility as stewards of our natural resources.
And sadly, more and more, it seems too many members of Congress are siding with development, logging, oil and gas, mining, and other polluting industries, who for decades have laid blame for all types of economic maladies at the ESA’s door. The ESA is a law that these groups simply want to go away, and if it won’t go away, they want to make it meaningless. And it would appear they have an ally in Rep. Hastings.
Make no mistake: we can absolutely protect imperiled species and habitats for future generations, even as we grow our economy. In fact, when we work together to protect our natural resources, we reap numerous economic benefits. Economists estimate that value provided by natural habitat in the nation’s 48 contiguous states amounts to $1.6 trillion annually – equivalent to more than 10 percent of the U.S. GDP.
But fear-mongering that pits conservation against the economy is what people like Rep. Hastings seem to prefer and so he promotes tall tales to prove his points. In fact, it is just window dressing for gutting the ESA, a deregulation goal that Hastings and polluting industries have sought for decades.
Hastings and his friends can continue to throw false accusations at the ESA, but they can’t change the fact that, ultimately, support for or against the ESA will come down to a question of Americans’ values. Are we a country that still believes we should protect our nation’s imperiled wildlife heritage for future generations? Or are we going to abandon decades of meaningful endangered species progress and allow anti-environmental ideologues to dismember the ESA, accelerate species extinction, and pass on a more compromised environment to our children?
Because in the end, the bottom line is this: Rep. Hastings’ proposal will cause more extinctions by imposing new road blocks to listing new species deserving of the act’s support. It will also provide significant loopholes to circumvent wildlife protection. Worse still, it will cut out the ability of citizens and watchdog groups to make sure the government does its job and complies with the law.
So please think twice when you hear Rep. Doc Hastings and his congressional allies with anti-environmental voting records say it’s time to ‘reform’ the ESA. Their real goal is to make it go away, condemning us to a future without many of the incredible wildlife and plant species we have cherished for generations.