Republicans try to block protection for imperiled mussels

By Michael Doyle | 06/24/2024 04:13 PM EDT

The lawmakers are deploying the Congressional Review Act to undo Fish and Wildlife Service designations.

Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas).

House Budget Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) is sponsoring a resolution against recent Endangered Species Act designations. Yuri Gripas/AP

A Texas lawmaker has reinforced Republican-led efforts to roll back Endangered Species Act protections with new legislation that targets seven kinds of fresh-water mussels with funny names.

In the latest Congressional Review Act salvo focused on ESA listings, Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) introduced H.J. Res. 169 to erase the Guadalupe fatmucket, Texas pimpleback and five other mussels from the list of threatened and endangered species.

Arrington’s resolution, introduced with two co-sponsors Friday, comes about three weeks after the Fish and Wildlife Service announced the final decision listing the seven species and designating 1,578 river miles as critical habitat.


“Instead of basing these latest designations on sound science, this Biden administration policy is a politically motivated attempt to regulate ag and energy producers out of business,” Arrington said in a statement.

Three years ago, FWS proposed designating a total of 1,944 river miles as critical habit. WildEarth Guardians in 2007 and 2008 filed petitions to list the seven species.

 A collection of Texas fatmucket mussels on sand.
Texas fatmucket mussels are shown. | Fish and Wildlife Service/Center for Biological Diversity

In making the listing decisions, the Fish and Wildlife Service cited water diversions from the Colorado River, Rio Grande and other river networks as leading threats to the species, along with drought, flooding and pollution.

But on a more positive note, the administration also pointed to conservation measures undertaken by the Brazos River Authority, the Lower Colorado River Authority and the Trinity River Authority.

The voluntary conservation work contributed to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to drop 231 river miles along the Lower Colorado River from the final critical habitat designation.

The agency proposed listing the Texas mussels under the ESA in August 2021. They inhabit the state’s Brazos, Colorado, Trinity and Guadalupe river basins.

Overall, there is one known remaining population of Guadalupe fatmucket — in the Guadalupe River — although the Fish and Wildlife Service noted that “very few individuals have been found in recent years.”

There are five known remaining populations of Texas fatmucket, all confined to the headwaters of the Colorado River and its tributaries.

“Historically, most Texas fatmucket populations were likely connected by fish migration throughout the Colorado River Basin, but due to impoundments and low water conditions in the Colorado River and tributaries, they are currently isolated from one another, and repopulation of extirpated locations is unlikely to occur without human assistance,” the Fish and Wildlife Service reported.

There are three known remaining populations of Balcones spike, comprising less than 3 percent of the species’ known historical range, and according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, “the three populations are unhealthy.”

Congressional Review Act resolutions allow lawmakers to overturn administration rules within a limited period of time after they have been finalized. Resolutions can pass by simple majority in both House and Senate, but if vetoed they would face a much-higher hurdle of a two-thirds vote.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden vetoed Congressional Review Act resolutions regarding the northern long-eared bat and the lesser prairie chicken. In both cases, the Senate didn’t come close to overriding the veto.

Still pending before the House are Republican-authored resolutions to roll back ESA listings for the dunes sagebrush lizard and to stop an ESA-related reintroduction of grizzly bears into the North Cascades region of Washington state.