U.S. Congressmen Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon), Bill Flores, John Carter, Mike Conaway and Steve Pearce introduced legislation, H.R. 1314, in the House last week to prevent costly lawsuit abuse related to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The bill would help protect American taxpayers from the expensive regulatory impact of closed-door litigation settlements between environmental organizations and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The ESA would be amended to give local governments and citizens a say in ESA settlements that affect them.
"ESA lawsuits have become big business for environmental extremists, and taxpayers are stuck footing the bill. This legislation applies commonsense reforms to the ESA settlement process to drive down costs to taxpayers, private individuals, and businesses alike," said Congressman Thornberry.
The bill limits the use of federal funding for ESA lawsuits suits and preserves the FWS's legal regulatory authority. It is the House companion bill to Senate legislation, S.19, introduced by Senator John Cornyn of Texas.
"It will also give a voice to those who are most affected by ESA lawsuits and regulations--those who earn their living on the land, such as farmers, ranchers, and energy producers," Thornberry said.
In recent years, the FWS has been subject to numerous lawsuits from environmental interest groups. These groups have a pattern of flooding the FWS with requests to classify numerous species as endangered. Because of the overreaching methods that these groups use to overwhelm the FWS, it is virtually impossible for the agency to meet certain statutory deadlines to respond to the requests. The groups then follow-up with lawsuits against the agency when it fails to meet its review deadlines.
These abusive lawsuits disrupt the functions of the FWS and cause the wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars. For example, in 2011 a settlement with two environmental groups -- made behind closed doors -- resulted in a "work plan" for the U.S. Department of the Interior to add hundreds of species to the endangered species list. This action was taken without any outside input from experts or impacted groups; instead, the settlement relied only on the plaintiff's demands. This abusive case and the resulting settlement also required the FWS to pay the plaintiff's legal fees.