Taking aim at Texas’ oil and gas production, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its intent to place the lesser prairie chicken on the list of “threatened species” in May. The threatened species list is one step below the endangered species list.
Fox News reported the move could affect agriculture, oil/gas drilling, wind farms and other activities in four states to include Texas. U.S. Fish and Wildlife director Dan Ashe said he was following the best science available. The prairie chicken, a type of grouse known for its colorful neck plume and stout build, has lost more than 80 percent of its traditional habitat, mostly because of human activity such as oil and gas drilling, ranching and construction of power lines and wind turbines, Ashe said.
Texas Railroad Commissioner, David Porter, responded in a press release obtained by Breitbart Texas.
“I am extremely disappointed in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) decision to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act,” Porder said. “It appears the federal agency has been influenced heavily by the environmentalist agenda, which has very little to do with preservation of this species and more with the eradication of the oil and gas industry. Unfortunately, this is another prime example of how the Endangered Species Act is seldom used for its intended purposes, but is being used as a political tool in the Obama administration’s war on fossil fuels.”
Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick joined Porter’s outrage in a statement.
“This kind of federal intrusion creates unworkable difficulties for Texas businesses and landowners,” Craddick said. “The result will undoubtedly impact Texas energy production in the chicken’s range area throughout the Panhandle and in the heart of the Permian Basin, with damaging effects on operators who produce more than one-third of this nation’s crude oil.”
Oil companies have complained that the potential for new regulations could impede their operations and would cost hundreds of millions of dollars in oil and gas development, particularly in the Permian Basin, according to the Fox News report.
Commissioner Porter explained the USFWS’ decision included a special rule that is intended to limit the regulatory impacts on the oil and gas industry. “I believe it still has the potential to be incredibly detrimental to energy production. As Texas Railroad Commissioner, I vow to continue to fight federal intervention in our state, the number one energy producing state in the nation.”
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson told Breitbart Texas, “I guess ‘threatened’ is better than ‘endangered’, but not by much. The next bird in the queue is the ‘yellow billed cuckoo bird. I’m not making this stuff up…”
The agricultural community could also be affected by this ruling. Congressman Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), who serves on the House Natural Resources Committee, said he was extremely disappointed in the USFWS’ decision.
“The timing of this decision is being driven by activist lawsuits,” Neugebauer said in a press release obtained by Breitbart Texas, “instead of what’s best for the species and the communities near its habitat. This listing is a blow to West Texas and every state that has Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat.”
“What’s worse is that this listing is unnecessary,” he stated. “The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Range-Wide Conservation Plan–an unprecedented collaboration between farmers, ranchers, energy producers, and governments across five states–would have successfully conserved habitat and fully recovered the species. But instead of cooperative conservation, we’re getting more Washington-Knows-Best regulations. Decisions like this will discourage innovative conservation efforts in the private sector, and ultimately do more harm than good.”
Congressman Neugebauer filed two bills earlier this week to improve the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Congressional Working Group, which he served on earlier this year. The ESA Working Group’s purpose was to analyze the ESA and develop recommendations to increase the ESA’s effectiveness both for people and for listed species.
H.R. 4284, the ESA Improvement Act, empowers states to protect and restore species and prevent listings by requiring FWS to involve them in the process before a listing is proposed.
H.R. 4317, the State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act, requires FWS to provide states with the data they are using to justify their listing decisions. Additionally, it requires FWS to consider scientific data submitted by state and local governments before making a determination.
On H.R. 4317 Neugebauer told Breitbart Texas, “When a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act, there are sweeping consequences for landowners, businesses, and communities near the habitat in question. ESA regulations are incredibly expensive, and a single listing can affect hundreds of thousands of people. So it’s crucial that the government is using the best available science to evaluate whether a listing is necessary or if other conservation efforts will be successful. My bill requires the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to provide states with the data they are using to justify their listing decisions, which increases transparency and the opportunity for community engagement. Additionally, it requires FWS and NMFS to consider scientific data submitted by state and local governments before making a determination. This is a common sense reform that ensures listings are open and transparent, and using the best available data about the species we hope to preserve. I’m grateful to Chairman Hastings for inviting me to be part of the ESA Working Group, and for considering this bill as part of a series of simple reforms,”
The House Committee on Natural Resources announced this week, the filing of four bill designed to improve and update the ESA according to a press release from Rep. Neugebauer’s office:
- H.R.4315, 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act (Hastings) The 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act would require data used by federal agencies for ESA listing decisions to be made publicly available and accessible through the Internet. The bill would allow the American people to actually see what science and data are being used to make key listing decisions.
- H.R. 4316, Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act (Lummis) The Endangered Species Recovery Transparency Act would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to track, report to Congress, and make available online: 1) funds expended to respond to ESA lawsuits; 2) the number of employees dedicated to litigation; and 3) attorneys fees awarded in the course of ESA litigation and settlement agreements.
- H.R. 4317, State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act (Neugebauer) The State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act would require the federal government to disclose to affected states all data used prior to any ESA listing decisions and require that the “best available scientific and commercial data” used by the federal government include data provided by affected states, tribes, and local governments.
- H.R. 4318, Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act (Huizenga) The Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act would prioritize resources towards species protection by placing reasonable caps on attorney’s fees and making the ESA consistent with another federal law. The Equal Access to Justice Act limits the hourly rate for prevailing attorney fees to $125 per hour. However, no such fee cap currently exists under the ESA, and attorneys have often been awarded huge sums of taxpayer-funded money. This bill would put in place the same $125 per hour cap on attorney’s fees for suits filed under the ESA that currently exist under the Equal Access to Justice Act.
“These are very simple, straightforward, and common sense bills and provide a good starting point as we begin the legislative process for improving the Endangered Species Act,” said Committee Chairman Doc Hastings.
“The bills are, by design, narrowly focused and something that both Republicans and Democrats can support. Increasing transparency; posting data online; enhancing state, local, and tribal participation; and reducing taxpayer-financed attorney’s fees to help direct taxpayer dollars towards recovery efforts are small, but important steps in making smart and sensible updates to the ESA,” Hastings said.