Click here to watch Chairman Barrasso’s remarks.  

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor on the need to modernize and strengthen the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The speech focused on draft legislation that was released by Barrasso to strengthen and modernize the ESA. The discussion draft reauthorizes the ESA for the first time since 1992.

The discussion draft emphasizes elevating the role of states and increasing transparency in the implementation of the ESA. It also prioritizes resources to better meet its conservation goals and provides regulatory certainty to promote conservation and recovery activities. The draft legislation has received broad support from stakeholders, state and local governments, and conservation organizations.

Senator Barrasso’s remarks:

“Mr. President, I would like to spend a little time this afternoon talking about something I continue to hear about in Wyoming. I heard about it a lot over the past week. I heard about it last night in Sundance, Wyoming and it’s the Endangered Species Act.

“The Endangered Species Act became law in 1973 – that was 45 years ago.

“It was a bipartisan vote.

“The law has resulted in a lot of great work to save species from extinction.

“We’ve seen species such as the bald eagle come back from the brink of being almost completely wiped out.

 "It’s a great example of what this law was intended to do – to identify species in danger, and to help them recover.

“The problem is there aren’t enough examples like the bald eagle to point to.

“The goal of the law was to help species get to the point where they no longer needed the protection of the law.

“We would put them on the list, they’d recover, and they would come off the list.

“That was the goal of the bipartisan legislation. That’s how it was supposed to work.

“So let’s take a look at what’s actually happened?

“Since the law went on the books, Washington has put 2,424 different species of plants and animals on the list – so over 2,000 onto the list.

“Only 54 have ever come off the list because they’ve actually recovered.

“Just 54 species in 45 years.

“That’s less than 3 percent.

“Mr. President, I am a doctor. As a doctor, if I were to admit 100 patients to the hospital and only three of every hundred I admitted recovered enough to be discharged, then maybe those patients ought to look for a different doctor.

“We are in the same situation with the Endangered Species Act.

“When it comes to the Endangered Species Act, the status quo is not good enough.

“We need to do more than just put species on the list and leave them in the intensive care unit without a plan for recovery.

“We need to see them actually recover.

“That’s the whole point.

“The Endangered Species Act has not been substantially amended or updated in 30 years.

“That’s a long time for a law to stay on the books without actually trying to improve it and improvement is necessary.

“Americans across the country are telling us it’s time – the Endangered Species Act needs to be modernized.

“As a former governor of Wyoming, Dave Freudenthal, came to testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said, ‘There is just too much sand in the gears.’

“Maybe the problems with the Endangered Species Act don’t seem so clear to bureaucrats in Washington, DC.

“But when you go out West to places like my home state of Wyoming, the problems are obvious.

“So we see how the law is failing to help species.

“We see it every day in Wyoming and it comes up continually in my discussion with folks at home.”

“We see how it’s failing the communities that suffer under the law’s ineffective and burdensome red tape.

“That’s why states in the West are tackling this issue when Washington DC has done so very little over the past decades.

“Three years ago the Western Governors’ Association began looking at ways to modernize the law – to help the Western states.

“The chairman of this group was Matt Mead, our governor in Wyoming.

“He set up a special bipartisan initiative that’s been working on this issue all of that time.

“They talked with people across the political spectrum liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, people from all different backgrounds and they came up with some practical and sensible policy recommendations.

“Last month, I released a discussion draft of legislation based on the principles from the Western Governors’ Association and the policies they are promoting and recommending to help all of the states of the West.

“It’s an effort to recreate what the Western Governors’ Association’s bipartisan process has done and recreate it right here in the United States Senate.

“I received a supportive letter from the group that was signed by its Republican chairman and its Democratic vice chair: Governor Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, and Governor David Ige of Hawaii. Both supporting our initiative.

“I think it shows we’re on the right path.

“We also based this discussion draft on input from two hearings I chaired in the committee on Environment and Public Works.

“We heard from a diverse and bipartisan group of witnesses.

“We heard from, as I said, the Democratic former governor of Wyoming, Dave Freudenthal – and from fish and wildlife directors from across the country.

“Most of them said that the principles set by the Western Governors’ Association were a good starting point for modernizing the Endangered Species Act.

“One important step we take in this draft legislation is to elevate the role that states actually play in implementing the law.

“We make them full partners with Washington, DC and its necessary. The time is right.

“When the law was written, states didn’t have the conservation capacity that they have today.

“States over the past 45 years have dramatically expanded their expertise and their ability to manage species. They have done a remarkable job over the past 45 years.

“State and local experts are the ones on the ground – they understand the situation and they work with these species on a daily basis.

“They know the needs of these species and the unique challenges they face: the habitats and the threats to the species.

“My draft bill gives states the opportunity to lead wildlife conservation efforts because they are the most prepared and the most able to do it.

“States need to be playing a significant role in recovering and managing these species.

“There are about 11,000 people working for the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service combined. 11,000 individuals.

“Conservation efforts at the state level have more than 50,000 people. So more than 4 to 1 of people working on the state-level of people working on these critical issues.

“There are more than 11,000 wildlife biologists – and 10,000 wildlife law enforcement officers at the state level.

“States are now spending close to $6 billion a year collectively on conservation efforts.

“It’s clear that America’s conservation power is in the states – not in Washington, DC.

“It’s where the action is, it’s where the money is, it’s where the intelligence is, it’s where the training is, it’s where the knowledge is. It’s where people want to be working it’s protect wildlife.”

“These state agencies are in the field everyday working to protect wildlife.

“Another thing this draft legislation does is to establish recovery teams for the species that are listed on the Endangered Species list.

“The goal is to develop and implement specific recovery plans for each species.

“The idea is to make the law more transparent, so specific recovery goals are clear to everyone.

“It provides more of the regulatory certainty that communities across this country need.

“We also have to make sure that the species that are most in need get resources first.

“Again, it isn’t some idea someone came up with behind closed doors in Washington, DC. No not all.

“This whole effort is based on feedback from the states.

“And from the 19 states and three territories that are part of the Western Governors’ Association.

“Wyoming Governor Mead testified at a recent hearing that my bill is in line with what states are looking for.

“He said it ‘represents a reasonable way’ to start a national dialogue on this subject, just like Western governors did.

“That’s why over 130 organizations have already written to express their support for this effort.

“Now, there are some groups out there that don’t want any change to the law. No change at all.

“They just want to keep adding to the list. Letting the list grow.

“They don’t seem to care if any species ever recover enough to come off the list. Which was the goal of the original legislation.

“I think that approach is not good enough.

“I want to find a bipartisan path to modernize the Endangered Species Act.

“Let’s follow the lead of these Western governors.

“Let’s have that same bipartisan discussion in the United States Senate.

“The Endangered Species Act is an important law and yes, it can be improved.

“We need more examples like the bald eagle.

“Recovering these species must be the goal – not just putting them on life support and leaving them.

“Let’s work together, Mr. President, to make the Endangered Species Act work better for species and for people.”