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Leon Kaye headshot

U.S. House Wants to ‘Modernize’ Environmental Laws

By Leon Kaye

For those who believe the federal government has a role in protecting the environment, this week’s U.S. Congressional calendar could seem like the start of a massive bloodletting.

Various U.S. House and Senate committees, emboldened by the election of Donald Trump, are reviewing the mandates of federal agencies including NASA, the Department of Energy, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will start hearings on what it describes as the “Modernization of the Endangered Species Act.”

Enacted during the Richard Nixon administration, the law has long been slammed by critics who say it is costly and an obstacle to economic development.

Since the GOP won the Senate in 2014, legislators have set their sights on the law. As Sarah Emerson of Motherboard reports, the last Congress launched at least 135 bills to weaken or eliminate the act.

One House Republican from Utah, Rob Bishop, told the Associated Press last month that he “would love to invalidate the law.”

Opponents of the law point to Section 7, which requires a review of lands proposed for development in order to gauge whether there would be any impact on endangered species. Critics describe the law as especially punitive as there is no mechanism for compensating landowners in the event development cannot occur if it is determined that an area is critical to a species’ habitat.

Supporters of the law, however, insist that it has not only been effective at slowing the rate of species extinction in the past 40 years, but it also has its own economic benefits.

The NGO Defenders of Wildlife (the president of which is scheduled to testify during Wednesday’s hearing), wrote in one study that less than 1 percent of the almost 430,000 development projects subjected to Section 7 reviews were delayed in a six-year period between 1998 and 2004 – and only one could not proceed. A decade later, another study found a similar result in the years between 2008 and 2015 – with no projects halted or canceled.

Defenders of Wildlife also says the Endangered Species Act creates its own economic stimulus at the local level, from tourism dollars to the building of projects that enhance habit protection.

But Rep. Lamar Smith (R, Texas), chair of the House science committee, has long been hostile to any agency conducting research related to climate change. Last week, Smith held a hearing that purported to revamp (or eviscerate) the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to “make it great again.” So expect that drumbeat to continue during this year’s session.

The 115 Congress’ attack on science, despite the fact that many companies say they will still commit to their sustainability programs regardless of the Trump administration’s agenda, will not let up anytime soon. On Thursday, Smith’s science committee will continue hearings on NASA’s role in leading climate change research, a function the Texas Republican insists should not be part of NASA’s directive.

Employees of various government agencies are responding in kind. A group calling itself the “Alt” National Park Service, in addition to its postings on Twitter, has urged citizens to call their senators and representatives and voice their opposition to the “modernization” of the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws.

Image credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Flickr

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported that the Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative was mentioned in the Congressional hearings. The initiative was not mentioned, and this post was updated on Feb. 27 to correct the error. 

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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