The Endangered Species Act has given beetles, birds, and other protected wildlife extraordinary power to stop the development of millions of acres of oil-rich land. But in the past two weeks, according to the New York Times, more than two dozen pieces of legislation, initiatives, and amendments have been introduced on Capitol Hill or by the White House aimed at weakening the act signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon.
Melinda E. Taylor is the associate director of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business. She’s also a senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. Taylor says Congress and the Trump administration could make it more difficult to put a species on the endangered species list.
“The other major set of amendments would make it more difficult once those species are on the list to actually protect them and their habitats,” she says.
Taylor says these pieces of legislation seem to be a wishlist that was written and desired by those who are opposed to the Endangered Species Act – most notably the energy industry.
“I would suggest though that there have been efforts over the last 20 years or so to try to reform the Endangered Species Act and the way that it’s implemented to make it easier to comply with, more flexible for the regulative community, and actually to achieve more of a balance,” she says.
Opponents have said there needs to be a system that would look at the economics of preserving a species – which is currently not in the calculations for putting a species on the list. Taylor says the initial decision over if a species should be put on the endangered list is based on science.
“The act is designed to identify those species that are most at risk of extinction based on all the available information from the best scientists that are out there,” she says. “But once a species has been identified – the agencies have always had a tremendous amount of flexibility in deciding how to protect that species.”
The last significant set of amendments to the Endangered Species Act were in the early 1980s. Taylor does believe there are aspects of the act that should be revised and updated.
“There hasn’t, until this point, been a lot of consensus in Congress about what these revisions should look like,” she says. “Various administrations have tried to do it at the agency level – including the Obama administration – who made a bunch of administrative changes, again, to make it more flexible, more streamlined, easier for the regulative community to comply – while still maintaining that balance for the species.”
Written by Amber Chavez.