Endangered Species

E&E News' Hiar discusses efforts to reform landmark law

Could the Endangered Species Act be facing major changes during this Congress? On today's The Cutting Edge, E&E News reporter Corbin Hiar discusses the elements of the current law that are facing fire and talks about the key players on the Hill who are fueling the discussion on ESA reform.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. Could the Endangered Species Act be facing major changes during this Congress? E&E News reporter Corbin Hiar has been covering congressional efforts to reform the law. Corbin, thanks for joining me.

Corbin Hiar: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: So Corbin, with Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress and also the White House, efforts to revise the Endangered Species Act have been revived. What are the elements of the current law that lawmakers are seeking to revise?

Corbin Hiar: Well, there's two tracks that lawmakers are going down right now. As with the last Congress, there's a number of efforts to target specific species, remove them from protections; the wolf, the sage grouse. Then other [bills] are taking aim at specific provisions; data use, the listing process in general. There's been more than two dozen [measures] introduced that could end up being potential riders on a spending bill.

Then there's a broader, more ambitious reform process that we took a big look at this week (Greenwire, April 17). Details are still emerging. There's been two hearings so far; one in the House, one in the Senate. In the House they're looking at the consultation provision. That was what the first hearing was about.

In the Senate it's more a search for Democratic support because right now to beat a filibuster Republicans need eight Democratic votes. So I think they'll go with whatever they can get as far as a more comprehensive package.

Monica Trauzzi: Something you looked into this week were the key players who are fueling the conversation on the hill surrounding ESA. Who's working on reform efforts in the House and Senate?

Corbin Hiar: So House Natural Resources Chairman Bob Bishop has expressed his desire to repeal and replace the Endangered Species Act. Something that won't fly in the Senate. Helping him, he actually just lost Rob Gordon who is his staff director on the Oversight Subcommittee. So that means Megan Olmstead is still there still working on that. Then Sang Yi has been promoted to replace Rob Gordon.

Rob Gordon, it's unclear yet where he's going, but he served in the Trump transition. So could be headed back there.

I should also note that the Trump administration, this is on their radar. Rocker Ted Nugent just had dinner with the president and said that he specifically talked to him about the need to reform the Endangered Species Act.

In the Senate you've got Barrasso, who's the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and his staff is working on it as a team, but two of the key players are Matt Leggett, who worked on him with the Republican Study Committee, and then Andrew Harding, more of a relative newcomer. They're going to be working closely with ranking member Carper's staffer, whose name is Mary Frances Repko.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned Ted Nugent. Which groups outside of the Hill and the Washington sphere are going to be most influential once this debate gets going?

Corbin Hiar: Other than aging rockers, I would say sportsmen. To be fair to Ted Nugent, he considers himself to be a very big sportsman. The sportsman community has a strong ally in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. It's less clear how involved he wants to be on this process, but the sportsmen community will definitely be involved.

The states are also heavily involved. The Western Governors Association is working on a broad reform effort that includes conservation groups. Conservation groups are much more skeptical of this process. Specifically Defenders of Wildlife. They would like to see more administrative reforms as opposed to opening the law back up.

Monica Trauzzi: So what's the likelihood that this actually passes, and what kind of timeline are we looking at for things to get moving?

Corbin Hiar: Well, there's two bets you can place. On riders. I think there's probably a better likelihood that we'll see riders attached to spending bills that could impact specific species or narrow portions of the law.

The broader reform effort is a much heavier push, and without any legislation to speak of right now, I would say that you're not going to see anything moving there at least within the next year or so.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. Great reporting. Thanks for coming on the show.

Corbin Hiar: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.

[End of Audio]



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