House GOP and Dems at work on competing ESA reform efforts

By Corbin Hiar | 05/15/2015 07:06 AM EDT

House efforts to overhaul the Endangered Species Act are about to heat up, according to the leaders of the Natural Resources Committee.

Committee Republicans plan to reintroduce a package of ESA reform bills that were recommended by a GOP working group last session, Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) told reporters yesterday. The bills, which Republicans say would make the law more transparent, cleared the House but were never taken up in the then Democratic-controlled Senate (E&E Daily, July 30, 2014).

"We will redo those four bills, and then we’ll go beyond that," Bishop said in an interview between votes on the House floor. He is also planning hearings "to enunciate what the problems are."

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"What we’ll try to put out, at least in my mind, is a kind of syllabus of how we’d like to accomplish things," said Bishop, a former history teacher.

But the chairman is in no rush to push any major ESA reforms through. "I’ve got six years to do this," he said. Bishop just assumed control of the Natural Resources Committee gavel in January.

At the same time, Bishop made it clear he would welcome any bill he can get from Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), whose Environment and Public Works Committee held a legislative hearing on ESA reform bills last week (E&E Daily, May 7).

"If he can get something passed in the Senate, I’d be more than happy to pick it up over here," Bishop said.

Meanwhile, Democrats are preparing a major ESA reform package of their own, according to Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member on the Natural Resources panel.

The legislation "deals with the complaints around ESA in terms of how it can be expedited but strengthens some other areas," he told reporters. It will serve as "a place-setter that people can look to as an alternative."

The bill is on track to be released in late June, Grijalva said. Between now and then, "we’ll be looking at a draft maybe next week, and then we’re going to shop it around and take it to outside groups and other members that are essential allies in the issue," he said.

Grijalva said he hopes the proposals will deter Republicans from trying to amend the ESA via legislative riders — an approach Bishop has already pursued with language to delay the greater sage grouse listing deadline that was added to the defense authorization bill (E&E Daily, April 30).

"The point is to try to force them to put everything on the table, not to do it piecemeal," the ranking member said. "If it’s all on the table, it’s an easier fight — not easier in the sense that we’re going to win here, but easier in terms of keeping our troops together."

The Democratic bill will attempt to appeal to minorities, urban voters and other groups that generally aren’t very interested in endangered species, Grijalva suggested.

"We’ve been working a lot with outside constituencies — with health providers, with communities of color — to try to rally a broader constituency against these things," he said.

Grijalva said he has talked with groups in Los Angeles about the "need to protect these species because the habitat provided for them is also of benefit to the American people and to urban America." He also praised an initiative by the League of Conservation Voters that similarly seeks to engage Latino minority communities on endangered species and other environmental issues.

"Habitat is essential for clean air and clean water," he added. "It’s a hard thing sometimes because some of these organizations are also used to just working on a specific urban agenda be it housing, health care, or education, so we’re kind of introducing this as part of a quality-of-life issue they should have."

Grijalva said the effort so far has been "interesting" but emphasized that it is very important if Democrats hope to defend the ESA against GOP reform attempts that they fear would weaken the law.

"We can’t beat these guys back without a bigger constituency than we have. Period," he said.

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