406 Dirksen EPW Hearing Room

Frank R. Lautenberg


Mr. Chairman, thank you for giving our committee an opportunity to discuss this landmark piece of legislation – the Endangered Species Act.


The American poet Joyce Kilmer was born in New Jersey, and educated at my alma mater, Columbia University.

Before he died in combat in World War I, Mr. Kilmer wrote many wonderful poems. Perhaps the most famous is “The Trees,” which includes the well-known lines,

“Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.”

Mr. Chairman, human beings can write poems. We can build things. We can pass laws. But we cannot create a new plant or animal. We can either destroy them and drive them to extinction …

Or, if we choose, we can protect them. I believe it is our duty as stewards of this planet to protect other forms of life. It is our duty to the future generations who will live on the planet we leave them. The Endangered Species Act has done that.

Since it was enacted in 1973 – during a Republican Administration, by the way – many species of American wildlife have been saved from extinction. Some of these, like the majestic bald eagle, have not been officially removed from the endangered list, but it is widely agreed they have recovered. It’s more common to see a bald eagle today than it was a few decades ago. Others, like the Florida panther, would almost certainly be extinct today if not for the Endangered Species Act. The bald eagle is one the 17 animals on the endangered species list that are found in my state of New Jersey. Others include the piping plover, the bog turtle and the gray wolf.

Mr. Chairman, I have 10 grandchildren. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I knew that they were growing up in a world where the bald eagle had become extinct.

The three purposes of the Endangered Species Act are to identify species at risk of extinction, protect the remaining individuals of these species and their habitats, and aid the recovery of these species. The Act has been successful in all three cases. But that doesn’t mean it is perfect.

Since its original passage, Congress has revisited the Endangered Species Act several times. Today, I am collaborating with my friend from Idaho (Sen. Crapo) in requesting a GAO report to determine whether the ESA can operate more efficiently.

We can undoubtedly find ways to implement this Act more efficiently. But the main problem with the ESA today is that the Administration is not following the spirit of the law – or in some cases, the letter.

The Administration is turning its back on science – just as it has done in ignoring global warming and allowing unsafe levels of mercury to be released into the air we breathe.

This is an act that has broad support among the American people. It has been renewed and strengthened through five different Administrations of both parties before the current Administration.

Congress can’t make a tree or an eagle – but we can uphold the legacy of protecting those species that share the Earth with us.

Thank you for the time, Mr. Chairman.