The Endangered Species Act (ESA) Working Group introduced a suite of bills today that specifically target areas of the ESA that the Working Group found outdated during eight months of field hearings and forums. U.S Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), co-chair of the Working Group with Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Hastings (R-WA), introduced H.R. 4316: the Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act. The bill would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to track, report to Congress, and make available online: 1) funds expended to respond to ESA lawsuits; 2) the number of employees dedicated to litigation; and 3) attorneys fees awarded in the course of ESA litigation and settlement agreements.
The four bills are supported by all the Members of the ESA Congressional Working Group, representing districts across the nation, and are based on the recommendations and findings of their report as well as input from a broad array of stakeholders, including the Western Governors' Association. The four bills focus on transparency and species recovery.
"The bills we introduced today are modest steps towards improving the ESA by refocusing it on the purpose Congress always intended -- conserving and recovering species," said Rep. Lummis. "Since passage of the law over 40 years ago, ESA policies have been increasingly driven by litigation, which has diverted attention and precious resources away from species recovery. Our legislation starts the reform process in part by increasing litigation transparency for public and congressional review. The stakes for species and taxpayers are too high for there not to be a full and accurate accounting of how many tax dollars are funding courtroom battles instead of species recovery. This is an outdated model, especially when compared to the effective boots-on-the-ground conservation efforts that we see every day in Wyoming and elsewhere at the state and local level."
The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a Full Committee legislative hearing on these bills on Tuesday, April 8.
H.R.4315, 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act (Rep. Hastings, R-WA)
The 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act would require data used by federal agencies for ESA listing decisions to be made publicly available and accessible through the Internet. The bill would allow the American people to actually see what science and data are being used to make key listing decisions.
H.R. 4316, Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act (Rep. Lummis, R-WY)
The Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to track, report to Congress, and make available online: 1) funds expended to respond to ESA lawsuits; 2) the number of employees dedicated to litigation; and 3) attorneys fees awarded in the course of ESA litigation and settlement agreements.
H.R. 4317, State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act (Rep. Neugebauer, R-TX)
The State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act would require the federal government to disclose to affected states all data used prior to any ESA listing decisions and require that the "best available scientific and commercial data" used by the federal government include data provided by affected states, tribes, and local governments.
H.R. 4318, Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act (Rep. Huizenga, R-MI)
The Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act would prioritize resources towards species protection by placing reasonable caps on attorneys' fees and making the ESA consistent with another federal law. The Equal Access to Justice Act limits the hourly rate for prevailing attorney fees to $125 per hour. However, no such fee cap currently exists under the ESA, and attorneys have often been awarded huge sums of taxpayer-funded money. This bill would put in place the same $125 per hour cap on attorneys fees for suits filed under the ESA that currently exist under the Equal Access to Justice Act.