WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing titled: “Modernizing the Endangered Species Act: Legislative Hearing on S. 4589, the Endangered Species Act Amendments of 2020.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome to our witnesses. I especially want to thank Governor Gordon of Wyoming for taking the time to be with us today.
“As a recovering governor and state treasurer myself, I appreciate the critical role that states play, as well as the challenges they may face, in implementing many of our federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act.
“We gather here today to consider legislation that would make significant changes to the Endangered Species Act, one of our nation’s most popular environmental statutes, at a time when our world is facing a dramatic decline in biodiversity. Last week, in fact, the United Nations released a report warning us that humanity is at a crossroads. Climate change, fueled by harmful emissions, rapid industrial growth and deforestation, are destroying or seriously disrupting ecosystems throughout our planet.
“As rising sea temperatures acidify the ocean, bleaching coral reefs in the process, plastic pollution is overwhelming marine life in large parts of our oceans. As severe heat and longer droughts create drier conditions, animals and birds cannot escape the catastrophic wildfires that engulf many of our forests.
“This steep decline in biodiversity is not just dangerous in theory. Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth. Its imbalance endangers humans, too, fueling the spread of invasive species and zoonotic diseases. Addressing this biodiversity crisis is all the more important as our country mourns the loss of more than 200,000 Americans to COVID-19, a zoonotic disease.
“Fortunately, the Endangered Species Act is one of our nation’s best tools to support, improve and protect biodiversity. How, you might ask? Well, let’s consider my home state of Delaware. The First State enjoys an effective partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within the framework of the existing Endangered Species Act. Through this partnership, the Act has helped recover species in our state, such as the Delmarva fox squirrel and the iconic bald eagle.
“Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is currently collaborating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to combat the spread of White-nose syndrome, a disease that has wiped out entire populations of endangered bats in our state. Our Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast region is also working with landowners, industry partners and non-profit organizations to prevent new Endangered Species Act listings and restore the Delaware River Basin.
“Meanwhile, people travel from around the world to see Delaware’s threatened and endangered species, most notably the red knots and piping plovers – two types of migratory birds that find safe haven on our shores to fuel on horseshoe crabs or nest on our beaches. If they’re lucky enough, some visitors may even spot a North Atlantic right whale or a sea turtle off our shores.
“I have heard from many of my constituents who are also passionate about protecting species in other states. Delawareans certainly support improving species conservation outcomes, but they overwhelmingly believe that Congress can do that by helping to address funding shortfalls at both the state and the federal levels. In fact, I’d say that most, if not all of the witnesses who have testified at the many wildlife hearings that our committee has held during the last two sessions of Congress seem to agree that states and federal agencies lack sufficient wildlife conservation resources.
“As some of you will recall, one of Wyoming’s former governors, Dave Freudenthal, co-chaired a “Blue Ribbon Panel” in 2014 on how best to sustain America’s diverse fish and wildlife resources. That panel, which included state leaders and industry and conservation organizations, determined in 2016 that a new funding model for state wildlife management is necessary.
“Yet, the legislation before us today does not prioritize funding. While I do support reauthorizing the Endangered Species Act, doing so does not constitute a complete or meaningful funding strategy. Reauthorization also does not guarantee funding increases for federal agencies, nor does it provide additional funding to states. Instead, the legislation before us today proposes changes to the Endangered Species Act that raise heartfelt concerns for those of us in Delaware and beyond. For one, it attempts to shift responsibilities for recovery and other species management decisions to states – without providing additional funding for states to fulfill those expanded roles.
“This is particularly troubling – even counterintuitive – because species typically only require Endangered Species Act protections when state management has failed. At the same time, the legislation also expands state roles by creating more steps to add to the Endangered Species Act implementation process, which could unintentionally create more – not less – bureaucratic red tape.
“Most concerning of all, however, the legislation includes a sweeping judicial review prohibition that limits the public’s opportunity to challenge delisting decisions that may not be supported by the best available science or, otherwise, may not be fully compliant with the law. I believe that most of my colleagues know that I always genuinely try to understand where my colleagues are coming from, especially when it comes to issues of importance to their states.
“Over the course of the last two Congresses, I have learned how and why Delaware’s experience and perspective is vastly different from Wyoming’s on this particular issue. But having said that, I still struggle to fully understand how this legislation would support species recovery – or serve the American public – in Delaware, or in most other states. While I believe there are areas of bipartisan agreement on how to better protect and conserve species, sadly, I’m afraid they’re not clearly reflected in the legislation we are considering today.
“With that said, though, I still look forward to our discussion today. I am hopeful that the result will be a return to bipartisan policymaking – one that considers the views of all of our states and stakeholders, based upon shared principles and priorities. This committee is capable of doing that. In fact, under the leadership of our chairman – and with the support of Democrats and Republican members of our committee – we do it regularly, and – I’m proud to say – as recently as this month.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”