Billed as a bipartisan compromise, a new version of the U.S. Endangered Species Act was debated Tuesday before a Senate committee.
Sen. Dirk Kempthorne, R-Idaho, the bill’s principal author, described it as a way to emphasize the recovery of endangered species without “putting communities at risk.”
Kempthorne said the Endangered Species Recovery Act would shift more control to states and local communities - taking potential economic impacts into account.
Most people agree the act, adopted in 1973, needs to be revamped. But balancing protecting species with protecting property rights has long been a sticking point.
The Clinton administration has given tentative support to the Kempthorne bill.
“On balance, we believe that (the bill) will strengthen our ability to conserve endangered, threatened and declining species,” Jamie Clark, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
But environmental groups, who also are expected to testify today, aren’t convinced. And conservative Republicans on the committee don’t believe it goes far enough to protect property and water rights.
The bill requires each listed species to have a “recovery plan” with population benchmarks. When those targets are met, the recovery plan would trigger a process to get the species removed from the list.
Of roughly 1,000 protected species today, half have “never had a recovery plan written,” Kempthorne said.
The recovery plan would be developed by a team, appointed by the Secretary of the Interior or the affected state, made up of representatives from local government, universities, business and private individuals.
That would provide more local input in the listing decision, though all decisions are subject to the review of leading biologists. The Kempthorne bill also streamlines the decision-making process, according to supporters.
It would give federal agencies, like the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Army Corps of Engineers, power to decide whether a proposed plan on private or federal land would harm or endanger species living there.
Currently, only the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service can make that call. Under the Kempthorne bill, if the “action agency” rules a project can go forward, the Fish and Wildlife Service has 60 days to review that decision. That deadline doesn’t bother Clark, of the Fish and Wildlife Service. But in order for the agency to review cases quickly, she said, it will need more staff.
If the bill does not come with additional funds it will lose the administration’s support, she said.
The bill, which the committee will vote on next week, earmarks more money to protect species. The Fish and Wildlife Service would receive $135 million in 1998, up from $67.5 million in 1997.