After months of wrangling and negotiations in the Senate, efforts to reauthorize the Endangered Species Act (ESA) appear to have stalled. The Senate took up ESA reform last September after it narrowly passed the House of Representatives. The House version was only adopted after a tenacious fight lead by Representative Richard Pombo (R-CA), Chairman of the House Resources Committee. The controversial House bill, H.R. 3824, The Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act, included provisions that would eliminate habitat protection programs and change long-term recovery plans to allow the federal government to compensate landowners affected by ESA. The legislation has drawn strong criticism from many Democrats, environmentalists, and other science advocacy organizations.
Since September, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, the committee with jurisdiction over ESA, has struggled to reach agreement on their version of ESA reauthorization. The committee leadership, Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK); ranking member James Jeffords (I-VT); Chairman of the Wildlife Subcommittee, Lincoln Chafee (R-RI); and subcommittee ranking member Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) have been "stuck" on five issues. According to Chafee, three of these issues include funding, critical habitat, and the jeopardy standard.
Not only is the EPW Committee struggling with these issues, but there is still disagreement on who should begin the process. Initially, when the House ESA bill passed, Senator Chafee had planned to start drafting legislation in the Wildlife Subcommittee. However, as recently as 4 April, Chairman Inhofe declared ESA reform was not "going to happen in the subcommittee. It's going to have to happen in the full committee or on the floor." If that is the case, some speculate that Senator Chaffee would join with committee Democrats to try and prevent legislation from being voted out of the EPW Committee.
Returning this week from a two week recess, the Senate faces immigration reform, appropriations, and other high-profile legislative initiatives. Thus, it appears that the likelihood that ESA will be considered this Congress is diminishing by the day. If the EPW committee were able to overcome their differences and negotiate a compromise bill, there are still a number of barriers keeping it from a vote in the full Senate. Significantly, in this busy and high-stakes election year, the Republican leadership of the Senate would have to believe that a potential floor fight over the ESA would benefit them at the polls this November.
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