Bikers, baritones join the crowd lobbying on ESA

By Corbin Hiar | 02/12/2015 01:05 PM EST

Endangered species issues attracted a lot of attention from K Street in 2014, some of it for clients who aren’t often focused on the fate of imperiled plants and animals.

Last year, more than 130 entities — including trade groups for motorcyclists, opera singers and public-sector workers — paid lobbyists to contact lawmakers or regulators about endangered species, according to a Greenwire analysis of quarterly lobbying disclosure filings, the last of which were due near the end of January.

That is an increase from 2013, when around 100 clients hired lobbyists to work on Endangered Species Act issues.


In interviews, lobbyists suggested the rise in client interest last year was in large part driven by concerns about the ESA protections for the sage grouse and lesser prairie chicken as well as new Fish and Wildlife Service restrictions on the ivory market.

Many lobbying clients represented in the past two years of disclosure reports are familiar voices in the ongoing debate over the ESA as well as other energy and environment issues under consideration in Washington, D.C.

The biggest power to weigh in on endangered species in 2014 was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent almost $124.1 million to lobby on everything from overhauling the ESA and advocating for the Keystone XL pipeline to reforming immigration and heath care. That total was more than double any other client, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (Lobbying clients aren’t required to specify how much of their spending is dedicated to each particular issue.)

Other big lobbying efforts on endangered species last year hail from the oil and gas industry. Drilling companies focused their efforts on unsuccessfully preventing FWS from listing the lesser prairie chicken as threatened under the ESA (E&ENews PM, June 12, 2014). With the help of a rider in a Defense Department spending bill, however, industry succeeded in fending off new protections for the sage grouse (Greenwire, Dec. 12, 2014).

Companies and associations like Chevron Corp., Occidental Petroleum Corp., the American Petroleum Institute and the Independent Petroleum Association of America worry that listing those species will make it harder to drill or build pipelines across the prairies that the rare birds call home.

Others that worked last year to roll back provisions of the ESA that impede development include the National Association of Home Builders, National Association of Manufacturers and American Farm Bureau.

Jamie Gregory, a lobbyist for the National Association of Realtors, said in an email the group supports ESA "reforms that streamline the process, increase transparency and more effectively integrate economic and cost benefits analysis into critical habitat and listing decisions." That’s broadly true of other pro-development organizations lobbying on endangered species issues.

The Realtors group spent more than $55 million on lobbying last year, second only to the U.S. Chamber.

The opposite side of the endangered species issue was represented in 2014 by lobbyists for environmental groups like Earthjustice, the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club. They are broadly supportive of the ESA and last year fought to maintain funding for FWS and oppose efforts to weaken the enforcement power of the law.

"While we were extremely disappointed that the sage-grouse rider passed, we were very pleased that we were successful in opposing and beating back a number of attacks," Mary Beth Beetham, the top lobbyist for Defenders of Wildlife, wrote in an email.

Strange bedfellows

But other clients engaged on endangered species in 2014 were relative newcomers to the issue.

The 91-year-old American Motorcyclists Association began lobbying on endangered species in 2013. Like the oil and gas industry, the motorcyclists group is concerned about the potential listing of the greater sage grouse — albeit for a very different reason.

"We want to make sure that we can continue to have access to public lands," AMA lobbyist Wayne Allard explained in an interview. More than 40 percent of the association’s nearly 216,000 members are off-road dirt bike riders. "If they get carried away with endangered species designations, they can dramatically impact our riding areas," he said, referring to FWS.

Allard, a former Republican senator from Colorado, emphasized that "we’re not against listing [the greater sage grouse] as an endangered species, we’re concerned about them listing areas that might take away riding opportunities. And if they have an area that they need to preserve the sage grouse in, then we would like to have an opportunity to ride someplace else."

Other industry groups with a tangential interest in the topic ramped up their endangered species lobbying after the White House announced a near-complete ban on the U.S. ivory trade early last year (E&ENews PM, Feb. 11, 2014). These include music trade organizations like Opera America and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which hosts the industry’s annual Grammy Awards, and the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA).

After music trade organizations raised concerns that musicians’ instruments could be confiscated when they traveled abroad, FWS decided to partially exempt them from the ban. But the League of American Orchestras, which has lobbied on endangered species since 2012, criticized the requirement that instruments not be resold — a provision that the group claimed could strip "essential musical instruments of their value" (Greenwire, May 16, 2014).

The NRA lobbied against the ivory ban last year out of fear that it could eliminate the U.S. market for antique guns. It has also supported the "Lawful Ivory Protection Act," which would’ve legislatively overturned FWS’s new ivory trade prohibitions (E&E Daily, July 16, 2014).

‘Beyond the immediate threat’

Another ESA-related bill was attacked by two very different progressive organizations for the same reason: the perceived threat that it posed to the ability of public interest groups to recoup their legal fees when they successfully sue the federal government.

"H.R. 4318, the so-called ‘Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act,’ is an assault on citizen enforcement and the rule of law," leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a civil rights group; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a public-sector union; and 22 other left-leaning organizations said in a June 2014 letter to U.S. House members. "By limiting fee recoveries to below-market rates, H.R. 4318 would make it difficult for many citizens to obtain effective legal representation."

"What we were concerned about in particular is that it would have implications beyond the immediate threat on the Endangered Species Act," AFSCME lobbyist Barbara Coufal added in an interview. In addition to signing onto the letter opposing H.R. 4318, her group and the NAACP also actively lobbied against it in 2014.

Their efforts were ultimately successful. The bill, introduced by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), died in committee. Related legislation introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), S. 2748, suffered a similar fate.

Looking ahead

While the U.S. Chamber has long been by far the largest player involved in endangered species lobbying, even many of the groups that are relatively new to the issue had lobbying budgets in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars last year.

On the lowest end of the scale, however, were more than a dozen groups that reported spending $10,000 or less on lobbying disclosures in 2014 that listed endangered species as an issue. These included the professional dancers membership group Dance/USA; the mountain town of Mammoth Lakes, Calif.; and the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., which is a 145-year-old company based on the island of Maui.

This year is likely to see more interest groups — big and small — engage in lobbying on endangered species issues. That’s in large part because Republicans have made an overhaul of the ESA, which was last reauthorized 1988, a top priority (E&E Daily, Jan. 27). At the same time, FWS has a slate of new species listings in the works.