In the epoch of alternative facts, congressional Republicans are devout truth twisters — especially when they argue for dismantling the Endangered Species Act.
GOP leaders have been pushing to revise the Endangered Species Act — one of the most successful environmental laws in the history of the U.S. — for years. Now, with a majority in Congress and control of the White House, they are more brazen than ever in attacks on the very law that saved humpback whales and bald eagles from extinction.
On Wednesday, Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming and chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, held what is expected to be just the first of many committee hearings with the short-sighted goal of gutting and repealing the Endangered Species Act.
The move is no surprise from Barrasso. His voting record on endangered species is putrid. Since entering the Senate in 2008, he has voted against endangered species protections at nearly every chance he got. That may or may not be related to the fact the oil and gas industry has contributed $1.72 million to his war chest since 2012 alone.
Not only is Barrasso working to disassemble a law two-thirds of Americans support keeping intact, his arguments for revising the Endangered Species Act are factually incorrect. This is where the truth twisting comes in.
Barrasso claims the Act needs to be rewritten because not enough species for his taste have been recovered and removed from the list of threatened and endangered species, “delisted,” as quickly as he and his Big Oil brethren would like.
The problem with using delisting as a measure of success for the Endangered Species Act is simple. For most species, it took decades to drive them to the precipice of extinction and it will take decades to bring them back. Most endangered species have just not been protected long enough to have fully recovered and been delisted.
The Endangered Species Act, however, has saved more than 99 percent of the plants and animals under its protection from extinction and put hundreds on the road to recovery. Indeed, most species protected under the Endangered Species Act are seeing their numbers improve.
And species are being delisted. More animals and plants were found to have recovered and delisted under President Barack Obama’s administration than under all other presidencies combined since the Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973, including fabulous species like the lesser long-nosed bat and black-capped vireo.
As endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, it’s deeply troubling to see politicians purposely mislead the American public in an effort to loosen regulations, especially ones that would further degrade protections for our most imperiled wildlife and their habitats.
If Senator Barrasso truly wants to see more species fully recovered, he would work to provide more funding to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for implementation of the Act. Right now, the Service gets roughly 3.5 percent of the funding federal biologists estimate is needed to recover species.
Short of that, Senator Barrasso and the rest of the Republicans in the pocket of Big Oil need to leave the Endangered Species Act undisturbed so future generations of Americans can experience the true richness of the American landscape.