The proposals would expand the ESA to allow the Services to list virtually any area as critical habitat - whether occupied or unoccupied by an endangered species - on the basis of climate change. Additionally, the proposal allows the Services to list areas that are not currently suitable habitat for species as critical habitat under the guise that the habitat may one day be suitable. Critical habitat designations make it more difficult to have any appropriate, productive use of lands and so it is concerning that the Services would expand their authority in an effort to ensure more critical habitat is designated.
"The proposals from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service would fundamentally alter how critical habitat will be designated in the future. As a result, the Services improperly assume authority from Congress," wrote the Senators. "If the FWS and the NMFS proceed, these changes will be used to ultimately lock up more federal and private lands from any productive and beneficial use."
In 2011, the FWS and NMFS entered into a sue-and-settle agreement that requires listing determinations on more than 250 species across the United States. In 2013, the Services produced a rule that severely limits economic analyses required under the ESA for critical habitat designations. Under the proposal the Senators requested be withdrawn, the Services would be provided with unprecedented ability to designate vast swaths of land and bodies of water as critical habitat with limited justification and without stakeholder input.
Vitter has been raising concerns about the abuse of the ESA for several years. In January 2013, Vitter led a group of 23 Senators questioning the Administration on how the proposed changes to economic impact analyses required by the ESA could potentially hide the true impact of a species listing on jobs and private property rights across the nation.
In February 2013, Vitter wrote on op-ed in the Washington Times, "Endangered Species Act's hidden costs." On December 28, 2013, the fortieth anniversary of the signing of the ESA, Vitter penned an op-ed for FoxNews.com, "Abuse of Endangered Species Act threatens American's private property rights."
Signing today's letter include Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Thune is the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee. Boozman is the top Republican on the EPW Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife. Rubio is the top Republican on Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.