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Endangered Species Act faces threat from House Republicans

A group of 13 House Republicans has proposed dismantling key portions of the Endangered Species Act, including limiting citizens’ ability to hold the government accountable and giving local politicians more influence over which plants and animals receive protections.

Changes recommended in the report would ultimately reduce protections for species on the brink of extinction and give politicians, rather than scientists, more say over how the Endangered Species Act is administered, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

"This is a cynical and Orwellian attempt to cripple one of our nation's most successful environmental laws to curry favor with polluters and other powerful interests,” said Brett Hartl, CBD's endangered species policy director. “According to the twisted logic of Rep. (Doc) Hastings and his tea party colleagues, denying protections to critically imperiled species helps save them and reducing funding for the Act will make more resources available to help species — the reality is that this report is all about gutting the Endangered Species Act and has nothing to do with improving it.”

The report from the GOP working group claims the Endangered Species Act is a failure even though 99 percent of species protected under the law have been saved from extinction and hundreds of species are on the trajectory toward recovery at the rate that federal scientists have predicted, according to the CBD.

“Time and again Americans have voiced their support for the Endangered Species Act — they see signs of its success in every state. It's why we still have bald eagles, grizzly bears and wolves in the lower 48 states,” Hartl said. “Now these Republicans are asking Congress to tip this law in favor of profiteers and local politicians rather than the plants and animals it was designed to protect.”

The Republican report takes particular aim at an agreement in 2011 to speed up protection decisions for 757 imperiled plants and animals in the United States. The agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the CBD, broke up a logjam in the decision-making process for species threatened with extinction, including some that had waited more than 20 years for a decision.

The agreement also led to Endangered Species Act protection for more than 100 species, including the Mount Charleston blue butterfly, which had just 17 left in the wild at last count; the Ozark hellbender, which is America’s largest amphibian and is severely threatened by water pollution; and the Florida bonneted bat, which has one of the smallest ranges of any bat and faces losing much of its habitat to sea-level rise.

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