Unprecedented Assault Undermines Landmark Law Protecting America's Most Vulnerable Animals, Plants
WASHINGTON— Over the past five years, Republicans in Congress have launched 164 attacks on the Endangered Species Act — a 600 percent increase in the rate of annual attacks over the previous 15 years, according to a new analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity.
The report, Politics of Extinction, also identifies five Republicans responsible for nearly a quarter of legislative attacks who have received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from special interests opposed to Endangered Species Act protections: Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).
“We’re witnessing a war on the Endangered Species Act unlike anything we’ve seen before,” said Jamie Pang, an endangered species campaigner with the Center. “If it’s allowed to succeed, this Republican assault will dismantle the world’s most effective law for protecting endangered wildlife and put scores of species on the path to extinction.”
The Center reviewed congressional and legislative records over the past 20 years. Among the findings:
- There have been 164 legislative attacks on endangered species since 2011 or an average of 33 attacks per year.
- By contrast, from 1996-2010 there were only 69 attacks for an average of five per year.
- So far in 2015, there have already been 66 legislative attacks on endangered species, ranging from bills to strip endangered species protections from gray wolves, American burying beetles and other species to bills to weaken the ability of citizens to go to court in defense of species.
- All the bills attacking endangered species this year, and 93 percent of those over the past 20 years, have been sponsored by Republicans.
The increased pace of attacks on endangered species corresponds to a massive increase in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, big agriculture and other industries that oppose endangered species protections. Between 2004 and 2014, for example, campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry increased from roughly $10 million to more than $25 million, according to OpenSecrets.org.
“It's no coincidence that the species that are most targeted, from the gray wolf to the sage grouse to the lesser prairie chicken, are those that the oil and gas industry and big agriculture view as standing in the way of their bottom line,” said Pang.
Many of the attacks on endangered species have come as riders on must-pass spending bills, including three that have passed so far. These include a 2011 rider that stripped protection from wolves in Montana and Idaho; a 2014 rider allowing trophy hunting and importation of scimitar-horned oryx, addax and Dama gazelle from Africa; and another 2014 rider that prohibited the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from expending any resources to protect sage grouse.
Overall 54 of the 164 attacks since 2011 have been riders, compared to just two between 1996 and 2010. These riders have no relevance to the spending priorities of Congress, but are added through secretive, closed-door processes as a means to pass controversial provisions that would otherwise not pass as stand-alone bills.
Among the slate of legislative threats that species currently face is a congressional rider in the 2016 Department of the Interior appropriations bill that would strip protections from gray wolves across most of the country. Another rider would delay protection of sage grouse.
An opinion poll released earlier this month shows that more than 90 percent of Americans support the Endangered Species Act.
“Republicans in Congress have essentially taken life-and-death decisions for species away from expert scientists for the benefit of special interests that have no interest in saving species,” said Pang. “That’s not what the American public wants, and it’s certainly not what species at the brink of extinction need.”