Today, the bald eagle is flourishing across the United States, its population on the rise. But it was not always so. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), this once-threatened symbol of freedom received the protections necessary to allow it to recover to the point of being removed from the endangered species list in 2007. While the bald eagle is one example of how the ESA has recovered imperiled species, there has lately been debate in Congress over the law, with some arguing that ESA regulations are too burdensome on federal projects, private industry, and taxpayers. A partisan hearing last week in the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations focused on the ESA’s consultation process (known as “Section Seven”), a mechanism to ensure the actions of federal agencies (including those they fund or authorize), do not jeopardize the existence of any species protected under the law.
“Many, including myself,” declared Chairman Raul Labrador (ID-1), “strongly believe that the Endangered Species Act, last authorized nearly 30 years ago, is in serious need of reform.” He claimed the Section Seven process, which requires a consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service and/or the Fish and Wildlife Service any time federal activities involve infrastructure, energy, and resources (including building and maintaining bridges, water facilities, hydropower dams, and roads) can be unnecessarily lengthy, stalling projects and forcing costly surveys and studies. He called for reform necessary to improve consistency between regions of the country, adherence to timelines, and employee accountability for completing consultations in an effective manner. Mr. Ronald Calkins (President, American Public Works Association), Mr. Jonathan Wood (Staff Attorney, Pacific Legal Foundation), and Mr. Doug Stiles (General Manager, Hecla Mining Operations) agreed with him that that the consultation process is inconsistent and wasteful.
Ranking Member Donald McEachin (VI-4), however, disagreed, arguing that Section Seven is a critical component of the ESA. He asserted that the vast majority of federal agency consultations are completed in reasonable time periods and if not, “it’s because there is a good reason.” He had agreement from Mr. Ya Wei (Jake) Li (Vice President, Endangered Species Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife), who argued that the process has helped reduce threats to endangered species and their habitats without being unduly burdensome to federal or private industry projects. The consultation process is necessary because without the proper precautions, a proposed federal action could drive a species off the planet forever. “Make no mistake,” Ranking Member McEachin advised, “the Section Seven consultation process of the ESA, in general, has been incredibly effective at preventing extinction.”