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Houston Chronicle: TexMessage: Texas Lawmakers Fight to Limit Endangered Species Act Lawsuits

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By Joanna Raines

Texas lawmakers have introduced legislation in the House and Senate to establish a new and improved procedure for claims against the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) based on the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The legislation will prevent environmental groups from using ESA lawsuits for economic gain, which representatives from Texas say is prevalent.

Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Midland, says FWS has been forced to settle a "barrage of lawsuits" from "shadowy environmental organizations" who are manipulating the justice process for their own gain.

Organizations are allegedly abusing the conservation system by flooding the FWS with requests, and then filing lawsuits when the office cannot meet it's deadline. These lawsuits, often funded by taxpayer dollars, are settled behind closed doors. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, said the "bogus lawsuits from fly-by-the-night environmental groups" are damaging development in local economies.

"It is time that we stop these closed-door settlements that are abusing the Endangered Species Act and costing American taxpayers millions of dollars, both of which are hurting the American economy," Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, said.

Sen. John Cornyn introduced the "ESA settlement reform act" in February. Yesterday, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, Flores, Conaway, and Carter introduced the House companion bill.

The legislation will give impacted local parties a say in the settlements, limit taxpayer dollar use, and preserve the FWS regulatory authority.

"I am proud to support this bill, which would protect Texas communities and landowners from unaccountable bureaucrats and overzealous environmentalists. For too long, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been forced to settle a barrage of lawsuits brought by shadowy environmental organizations who manipulate our justice system to change federal environmental and land-use policies," Conaway said.


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