Endangered Species Act Bill Brings ‘Common Sense’ into Legislation

Apr 04, 2014

Many people argue whether the term “common sense” actually has widespread application. More often than not, it seems we see more cases where “common sense” was pushed aside for something without it.

Sadly, the policies of many government agencies have this problem, too, creating headaches and frustration for U.S. citizens. Meanwhile, a little common sense could allow the federal government to operate properly and also provide much needed regulatory relief for its taxpayers.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has a problem with common sense. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) are in charge of issuing any Critical Habitat Designation (CHD) under the ESA, designed to protect the ecosystems of endangered species. While these designations sometimes are completely necessary, all too often, these agencies fail to consider how their policies hurt both private and public landowners.

Late last month, I sponsored—along with my cosponsors Congressmen Tim Griffin (AR-2), Steve Womack (AR-3), and Tom Cotton (AR-4)—a bill known as the Common Sense in Species Protection Act, or H.R. 4319. This legislation requires any agency involved in making a CHD to use common sense by considering social and economic impacts for all affected land owners before issuing that CHD.

Under H.R. 4319, FWS must start small when assigning land for a CHD. The bill forces agencies—such as FWS—to use an incremental approach, where they consider the economic impacts on people, businesses, and municipalities. This action will help prevent excessive agency overreach that hurts private and public landowners.

FWS’ current cumulative approach only considers consulting costs with agencies when a federal activity may affect Critical Habitat, which essentially amounts to the cost of paperwork. In addition, the agency often claims no true economic impact will occur when it creates a CHD, based on the assumption the listing process alone realizes any impacts.

My new bill doesn’t interfere with or change this listing process, and it doesn’t suggest protecting species as threatened or endangered is inappropriate either. In fact, we should always be good stewards of our land and the creatures living within it. However, federal agencies should return the favor by working with us, and consider how a CHD would hamstring landowners, businesses, and communities before issuing blanket protection for certain species.

I’m thankful my colleagues in the Arkansas delegation realized the importance of this common sense bill, and I’m also glad to see various state and farm groups jumping on board as well.

So, hopefully through this legislation, we can make “common sense” a little more “common.”

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