This Bill Eases ‘Recovered’ Species Off Endangered List

It will be easier to take wildlife off the endangered and threatened lists if Congress passes a bill introduced by Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.

“The Endangered Species Act has been used as a sword instead of a shield,” Biggs told The Daily Signal in a phone interview.

His bill would streamline the process of removing a species from the endangered list if the nation’s secretary of the interior “receives an objective, measurable, and scientific study demonstrating a species has recovered,” the Arizona Republican said in a press release.

Enacted in 1973, the Endangered Species Act provides a “framework to conserve and protect endangered and threatened species and their habitats,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Biggs’ bill is one of several measures introduced last week by House Republicans aimed at updating the Endangered Species Act.

His legislation includes provisions addressing the issue of a species being “wrongfully listed,” as well as penalizing those who “intentionally submit false or fraudulent data in order to cause a species listing.”

The bill would also provide a way for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “promptly take action when a species is wrongfully listed, rather than letting the problem linger in federal bureaucracy,” according to the press release.

“This will allow us to focus resources to protect species that actually need it,” Biggs said in a written statement.

The Fish and Wildlife Service currently lists 1,459 species of wildlife considered at risk of extinction in the United States, from the red wolf to the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle to the Northern sea otter. Classifications include endangered, threatened, and experimental populations.

Biggs so far has 23 co-sponsors, predominantly from Midwestern states. No Democrat has signed on as yet.

The Trump administration has begun to push related reforms through the Interior Department. The Western Governors Association, meeting last month, advanced its own version of bipartisan reforms. Wyoming Gov. Matthew Mead, a Republican, has been a leader in the effort.

Biggs told The Daily Signal that some environmental groups want to take control of private property and economic activity in the name of defending a species, and that such groups “don’t want to delist species that have come back.”

Some colleagues on the other side of the aisle have given the “usual diatribe” about proposed reforms, Biggs said, arguing that he and other Republicans are “out for the big bucks and don’t care about animals.”

But Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., has co-sponsored certain measures in the package of bills.

Other Democrats “don’t want to give in on environmental issues at all,” Biggs said.

Kevin Mooney contributed to this report.

Report by Jeremiah Poff. Originally published at The Daily Signal.

More Power to the States Will Enhance US Energy Dominance

In the midst of a growing global economy, the world’s demand for energy is booming.

In 2017, global demand for energy grew by 2.1 percent, more than double the previous year’s rate. Oil, gas, and coal accounted for about 80 percent of global energy consumption with oil alone accounting for 32 percent of global consumption.

Producers in the United States have stepped up to meet that demand. The U.S. has been the world’s leading natural gas producer for nearly a decade. Domestic oil and gas production has increased 60 percent since 2008.

Despite America’s energy dominance and the economic benefits that accompany it, an abundance of natural resource potential in the U.S. remains untapped.

Why? A key reason is the federal government owns and manages those resources. Federal regulations and federal land ownership have rendered vast quantities of recoverable oil and natural gas onshore and offshore either inaccessible or costlier to extract.

The current leasing and permitting process has frustrated people of all political beliefs. On average, the federal processing of an application for permit to drill in the last year of the Obama administration was 257 days, while state processing has typically been 30 days or fewer.

While the Interior Department is working tirelessly to reduce permitting delays, this massive time disparity prevents market forces from working effectively. When prospective drillers have to wait many months to get approval, the prospect of drilling in a timely manner can often be implausible.

Even though many federal proposals are approved, fluctuations in the price of oil combined with a long waiting period create the type of uncertainty that often prevent prospective drillers from even attempting the process. Authorizing states to manage onshore and offshore resource production for a greater percentage of the revenue than the current system will create a new and better system that permits industry to better respond to changing market conditions.

Last week, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to discuss enhancing state management of natural resources on federal lands and waters. Draft legislation introduced by the committee would empower states to have more control over the leasing, permitting, and regulations of oil and gas production.

It would also authorize a state to approve or disapprove of each lease sale offered in federal waters if the area is within the state’s administrative boundaries. The amount of royalty revenue a state would collect would depend on how many lease blocks a state approved.

State control, local governance, and private-sector participation would result in more accountable, effective management. While the federal government can simply shift the costs of mismanagement to federal taxpayers, states have powerful incentives for better management of resources on federal lands. State governments can be more accountable to the people who will directly benefit from wise management decisions or suffer from poor ones.

Opponents of the proposed legislation said this bill would give oil and gas priority over other economic interests a state may have. For instance, coastal states have stated concerns that offshore drilling would possibly hurt their tourism and fishing industries.

But states like Louisiana have proven you can have your oil and seafood, too. In 2014, the Louisiana oil industry generated $44 billion for the state economy and another $36 billion when including related infrastructure and refining activity.

In addition to energy production, seafood and tourism industries stand out as significant contributors to Louisiana’s economy. Louisiana represents 30 percent of the commercial fishing for the continental United States and are substantial producers of shrimp, oysters, crawfish, and crabs. Annually, the industry creates $2.4 billion in economic growth for Louisiana.

These industries work hand-in-hand for the economic benefit of the state.

Opponents of the draft legislation have also held inconsistent views on the principles of federalism. The proposed legislation would empower states with a choice that, under the current system, they simply do not have.

Under current law, the Department of Interior could easily make choices for all states and allow for energy exploration in federal waters, regardless of whether those states want it or not. The proposed legislation would at the very least give states a say in the decision.

As Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee Rob Bishop, R-Utah, pointed out during the hearing, Democrats seem to only want federalism in certain cases. The same Democrats who now want federalism in the case of coastal states did not want federalism in the recently reversed case of the Bears Ears Monument issue in Utah. They’ve opposed empowering states to oversee natural resource production and other land use decisions on federal lands.

Bishop noted the hypocrisy of the Democrats specifically by contrasting their rejection of the wishes of local citizens in the Utah case with their support of the wishes of citizens who opposed drilling on federal waters. Federalism seems to have been lost to the Democrats and their current stance is, at best, inconsistent.

A Washington-centric approach to management stifles creative, collaborative solutions to competing interests that could be resolved at local, state, or regional levels without the added baggage of national political battles and federal regulatory processes. While states and local communities may not always make perfect decisions, the best environmental policies are site-specific and situation-specific and emanate from liberty.

The Natural Resources Committee should be commended for introducing draft legislation that would improve the current process by engaging the appropriate stakeholders and better aligning incentives for economic development and environmental protection.

Commentary by Nicolas Loris and Bryan Cosby. Originally published at The Daily Signal.

State Management Plans Are the Only Path to Successful Sage Grouse Conservation

The House Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing to review the success of Western State sage grouse management plans and the need for continued local control over sage grouse management. Western States sage grouse management plans have been the primary driver of improvements to the species range-wide.

[T]he federal government under the Obama administration insisted on managing Greater Sage Grouse recovery with a Washington, D.C., one-size-fits-all approach that fails miserably to address the individual management challenges present in each state. The purpose of today’s hearing is to provide further evidence that state and local control leads to lasting success. States have consistently proven to be masters at caring for their own lands and wildlife, and sage grouse is no different,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) said.

In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided that listing the Greater Sage Grouse as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act was not warranted. Instead, the Obama administration developed an equally-restrictive de facto listing scheme by amending 98 Western resource management plans.

The Obama administration’s de facto sage grouse listing and the 20 year mineral moratorium on ten million acres of land has been one of the greatest threats to the livelihood of western communities. Some of the most stifling consequences of the Obama era regulations were targeted at businesses,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said. “Thankfully President Trump’s Department of [the] Interior cancelled the massive proposed withdrawal allowing job creators and hardrock miners to get back to work.”

Decades of activist litigation and efforts by the Obama administration to circumvent successful state management plans have been “bad for the West, bad for jobs and bad for sage grouse,” according to Idaho Speaker of the House and fifth generation rancher Scott Bedke.

In the process of placating anti-grazing activists, federal agencies have made the number one threat to the Greater Sage Grouse in Idaho worse. In fact, these federal amendments, if left to stand, will create an explosive wildfire situation throughout the Great Basin,” Bedke added.

In 2017, Bedke’s family ranch lost their entire winter grazing allotment due to overly prescriptive federal land use restrictions. A wildfire, which could have been easily contained by local firefighter, was allowed by federal managers to grow out of control burning tens of thousands of acres of prime sage grouse habitat.

My home state of Colorado has spent more than ten million dollars, set aside 130,000 acres for habitat and is developing a mitigation marketplace all for protecting the sage grouse,” Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) said.

State management plans have been developed with local stakeholders and experts on the ground for more than a decade to address unique and varying geographic differences within their boundaries.

It should be no surprise that Western States are actively implementing plans within their respective states that are having positive impacts on habitats,” Chairman of the Eureka County Nevada Commissioner, Vice Chair of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Federal Lands Committee and Fourth Generation Cattle Producer J.J. Goicoechea said.

Utah, for example, spends an average of $5 million a year protecting sage grouse, and has seen the state population of sage grouse steadily increase since 1990. The state has been especially successful at mitigating the threat of catastrophic wildfire within sage grouse management areas.

I am here to do more than just share a feel good success story of a program that is working. I am here to protect these programs,” Deputy Director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources Darin Bird, in reference to the state’s management strategies, stressed.  

Similarly, in Montana, male sage grouse are up 153% compared to 2014 numbers due to the investment of almost $8 million in conservation funds in 2016 to restore over 1,000 acres of critical sage grouse habitat.

Click here to view full witness testimony. 

Bills to Modernize Endangered Species Act Advance Through Committee

The House Committee on Natural Resources passed five bills to reform the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:

The ESA is a landmark statute created with noble intent. It also includes fatal design flaws that inhibit greater success and handicap state-led, science-based recovery strategies. These flaws must be addressed and the law must be modernized. This slate of bills provides a framework for this discussion that we will build upon in coordination with the Senate, Trump administration, states and all interested stakeholders. I thank the bill sponsors for their work on these important pieces of legislation and look forward to our work ahead.”

H.R. 424 (Rep. Collin Peterson, D-MN), the “Gray Wolf State Management Act of 2017,” reissues the final rules from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to delist the gray wolf in the Western Great Lakes region and maintains effective state wolf management in Wyoming. The bipartisan bill passed by a vote of 26-14.

H.R. 717 (Rep. Pete Olson, R-TX), the “Listing Reform Act,” allows for the consideration of economic factors in threatened listing decisions. It also provides flexibility to agencies’ prioritization in processing listing petitions, which relieves FWS from excessive litigation and allows more resources to be used for species conservation and recovery. It passed by a vote of 22-13.

H.R. 1274 (Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-WA), the “State, Tribal and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act,” fosters greater cooperation between the federal government and states by ensuring state, local and tribal scientific data is factored into ESA species listing decisions. The bill passed by a vote of 22-14.

H.R. 2603 (Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-TX), the “Saving America’s Endangered Species Act” or “SAVES Act,” removes duplicative permitting requirements for interstate movement of nonnative endangered species enhancing opportunities for conservation. The bipartisan “SAVES Act” passed by a vote of 23-16.

H.R. 3131 (Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-MI), the “Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act,” combats the recent proliferation of ESA-related litigation by capping attorneys’ fees to the same reasonable levels allowed for other types of citizen lawsuits against the government. It passed by a vote of 22-16.

Click here to view full markup action. 

Bishop Statement on Sage Grouse

Department of the Interior has announced plans to reverse the former administration’s 10 million acre mineral withdrawal across six western states, overhaul the de facto Sage Grouse listing and improve management of the species through greater state input. Chairman Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:

These withdrawals were never about Sage Grouse conservation. It was all a ploy to assert more federal power, ignore actual data and best science, and diminish the influence and authority of states. States have proven to be more than capable of managing wildlife and conservation within their borders and will continue to be the best advocate for the species.  

“Secretary Zinke is developing a better policy through input from states and people on the ground with local knowledge and expertise.”

Subcommittee Chairmen Respond to Antiquities Act Reform Legislation

The Committee has marked up H.R. 3990, the “National Monument Creation and Protection Act” or “CAP Act.” Introduced by Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bill protects archeological resources while ensuring public transparency and accountability in the executive’s use of the Antiquities Act.

“The Constitution gives to Congress alone the jurisdiction over public lands. While the executive should be able to move swiftly to protect small archeological sites from imminent threat of looting or desecration, the decision over whether to set aside vast portions of land in perpetuity should only be made after the lengthy debate, public input and accountability that are the unique attributes of the legislative branch,” Subcommittee on Federal Lands Chairman Tom McClintock (R-CA) said.  

“Our government works best when it works with the people it serves to accomplish objectives for the common good. For too long, our leaders have not adhered to these principles. The ‘National Monument Creation and Protection Act’ seeks to protect the public’s interests from executive overreach through collaboration with local stakeholders, comprehensive review of monument designations and congressional direction on any future presidential monument reductions. I thank Chairman Bishop for his leadership on this issue and look forward to passage of this important legislation,” Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-AR) stated.

“When Teddy Roosevelt created the Antiquities Act, his intent was to set aside unique areas of land, not to cutoff millions of acres for the federal government to control that produces no revenue or benefit – all while hurting local governments. Through the years, the abuse of this power has snowballed to a point where President Obama designated more acreage during his Presidency than all other Presidents combined. This process unfairly eliminates local input altogether and severely limits the public’s access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities as well as reasonable resource development on their public lands. It is important that the decision to designate or expand national monuments is returned to Congress, where the local citizens and communities can have a say,” Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Chairman Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) said.

“This legislation secures a future for locally supported national monuments, checked executive authority, and empowered local governments. The original intent of the Act is upheld and strengthened with measures that bring us into the twenty-first century. I firmly believe this will provide the accountability we need when it comes to protecting our lands,” Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) stated.

“Regardless of political affiliation, presidents on either side of the aisle shouldn’t be able to create massive new national monuments by executive fiat without local public input. It is, after all, the people living near these national monuments that are most affected by their creation. Our nation’s public resources are best managed when the people that use those lands are intimately involved in the process. Chairman Bishop’s ‘National Monument Creation and Protection Act’ protects private property rights and empowers local stakeholders while also including important clarifying definitions that should have been included in the original law. I am grateful for his strong leadership on this issue and am proud to be a cosponsor,” Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Chairman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said.

Trump Slaps Motorists with Ethanol Costs