The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held an oversight hearing last week on delays and uncertainty related to Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultations.
Subcommittee Chairman Raúl Labrador (R-ID) reacted to testimony from witnesses that recounted personal experiences with extensive delays as a result of ESA consultations that ultimately jeopardized human health and safety, harmed small businesses and, in many cases, further imperiled species.
“The testimony we heard today is crystal clear that we need – in an infrastructure package or legislation moving forward – to address ESA for people and species. This law is a lawyer’s dream that has the power to block projects entirely while taxpayers foot the bill,” Subcommittee Chairman Labrador said.
Protracted consultation timelines are particularly concerning when delays hold up projects that benefit the environment according to Jonathan Wood, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation.
“If the slow, burdensome consultation process causes communities to delay necessary upgrades and improvements, then the environment and endangered species could ultimately pay the price when that infrastructure fails,” Wood stated.
Douglas Stiles, General Manager of the Hecla Mining Company, specifically spoke to the broken legal system when it comes to listing and consultation.
“The current system is abused by non-profit organizations pursuing procedural litigation on emotional issues in cases disconnected from the Act’s original purpose,” Stiles stated. “The guarantee of litigation following an Agency decision has added decades to the permitting timeline and millions of dollars to permitting costs with no benefit to the species.”
Ron Calkins, President of the American Public Works Association, similarly called for reforms to the statute, while noting that species recovery and critical infrastructure projects are not mutually exclusive.
“We need a better balance between the protection of endangered species and the ability to implement important public works and infrastructure projects especially when public safety and health is threatened by a lack of water supply,” Calkins said.
Click here to view full witness testimony.