EPW Hearing Statement: Discussion Draft Bill, S.___, the Endangered Species Act Amendments of 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Legislative Hearing on Discussion Draft Bill, S. __, the Endangered Species Act Amendments of 2018.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you to all of our witnesses who have traveled here today to represent their states. As a former governor, I recognize the critical – and sometimes challenging role states play in implementing our federal laws. The Endangered Species Act, one of our nation’s most popular environmental protection statutes, is an example of one such law.

“I also appreciate the ability of governors to come together with stakeholders and solve difficult issues on the ground. Governor Mead, I understand from colleagues that you spearheaded a bipartisan 3-year process through the Western Governors Association to discuss possible improvements to the Endangered Species Act. I commend you for doing so.

“I very much look forward to hearing from you and our other witnesses today on this important topic, but I want to be honest: I am not fully convinced that a similar process is possible right now in Washington, D.C. Our colleagues in this Congress have put forward and advanced a myriad of legislative proposals to weaken and undermine the Endangered Species Act. The current Administration has repealed policies from the previous Administration that would have helped endangered species to recover. I’m told that the Department of Interior plans to release new regulations this week that could harm our nation’s most imperiled species.

“Further, the draft legislation we are considering today includes provisions that go beyond the legislative recommendations proposed by the Western Governors Association last year. Even the text that is based on the Western Governors Association’s resolution recommendations contains problematic details. To my knowledge, none of the Democratic governors who supported that resolution can endorse this draft, as it’s currently written. I would hasten to add that this process seems to be skipping another important step – soliciting, discussing and incorporating the views of the other 31 states.

“For example, my home state of Delaware has a compelling story to tell. The Endangered Species Act has successfully recovered a number of species in our state, including the Delmarva Fox Squirrel and the Bald Eagle. Delaware is proud to host and help recover threatened species, like the Red Knot and Piping Plover. People travel from near and far to view these special birds from our beaches. In fact, I joined some of these birders a couple of months ago at our beloved National Wildlife Refuges. The First State also enjoys a wonderful working relationship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Our region is working with landowners, industry partners and non-profit organizations to successfully prevent new listings. No law is perfect, but in Delaware’s experience, changes to the Endangered Species Act have not been a prerequisite for the law to work.

“I continue to believe that our state, the Service, and all states could do exponentially more to recover species and prevent new listings with additional resources. The Western Governors Association seems to agree with this assessment. I also remember that all of our witnesses at previous Endangered Species Act hearings agreed that funding is a serious challenge. Yet in recent years, Congress has underfunded the Endangered Species Act. And the draft legislation we’re holding this hearing on today does not provide a meaningful funding solution for species conservation.

“Instead, the legislation proposes several changes to the Act that cause me real concern. For one, it creates a new definition for how the Fish and Wildlife Service should consider scientific information. This change could actually prevent the best available science from guiding species management, especially in an Administration that consistently denies and undermines science. It also includes a judicial review prohibition that limits the public’s opportunity to challenge delisting decisions that may not be supported by the best available science or are otherwise not fully compliant with the law.

“I again want to acknowledge the thoughtfulness that went into the Western Governors Association Endangered Species Act Initiative. Having said that, though, I’m having a hard time understanding how this legislation in particular will better recover species or better serve the American public.  Perhaps this hearing will serve to further my understanding or, perhaps, it will cause us to go back to the drawing board and draw on the expertise and insights of the 31 states whose input apparently was not sought when the legislation before us was being crafted. 

“If we do that, it may enable our Committee to come together – as we have on several occasions this Congress – and work to truly conserve our nation’s treasured wildlife for future generations.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”