Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

ONE DAY left in this Mid-Year Campaign. This is our hour of need.
If you value independent journalism, please support Common Dreams.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Whooping cranes fly in Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, Decatur, Alabama

Whooping cranes fly in Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, Alabama. There were only 48 whooping cranes in the country when the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, and thanks to the law's protections there are now over 600. (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/flickr/cc)

Could Republican Majority Repeal the Endangered Species Act?

Right-wing Republicans have attacked the Endangered Species Act for years—and now they're aiming to repeal it altogether

Nika Knight Beauchamp

Endangered species in the United States are facing a newly powerful enemy: a Republican Congressional majority backed by a Trump administration and a likely right-leaning Supreme Court.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA)—dubbed "America’s foremost tool for protecting biodiversity" by the Center for Biological Diversity—has for decades been the target of right-wing Republicans. In 2015 alone, the Republican-dominated Congress launched an unprecedented 130 legislative assaults (pdf) on the law, including bills intended to undermine the ESA and legislative amendments that would greatly weaken the law's protections.

One Republican congressman, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, has now set his sights on completely dismantling the pivotal 1973 law. Josh Zaffos reports for High Country News that after backing bills to weaken the ESA for years, earlier this month Bishop "went even further and told E&E News the ESA is so dysfunctional that lawmakers may 'simply have to start over again,' and 'repeal it and replace it.'"

"That might mean giving state wildlife management agencies primary responsibility for species conservation," explains High Country News. "Protections could vary widely, and since states get their funds from hunting licenses and fees, they might be tempted to prioritize game management over at-risk species."

The consequences would be dire. As conservation group Earthjustice explains in its Citizens' Guide to the Endangered Species Act (pdf), "[t]he protection afforded by the ESA currently extends to over 1,250 species, and most of them have completely recovered, partly recovered, had their habitat protected, or had their populations stabilized or increased as a result."

The guide continues: "As important, millions of acres of forest, beaches, and wetlands—those species' essential habitats—have been protected from degradation and development."

Indeed, it is because of a perceived threat to economic development that conservatives have targeted the ESA. Many of the political careers of those most hostile toward the law, such as the Republicans on the House Resources Committee, are funded by large donations from environmentally destructive industries.

Dan Rohlf, a professor at Lewis and Clark Law School, commented to Zaffos that "[a]ny Congressional action that would weaken the Endangered Species Act at all would be pretty dramatic. What Rep. Bishop is talking about would be a major decision in the environmental history of this country."

"Because it preserves plants, and animals, and the ecosystems they depend on," Earthjustice notes, "the ESA is perhaps the most powerful and most significant environmental legislation ever passed in the United States."

In fact, the Center for Biological Diversity observes that "[w]ere it not for the Act, scientists estimate, at least 227 species would have likely gone extinct since the law's passage."

And so with a right-wing federal government looming, environmentalists are bracing for a battle with high stakes—and frightening odds.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Just ONE DAY left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

'Stark Betrayal': Biden Administration Floats New Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling

"This is the third time since November the Biden administration has announced new oil and gas leasing plans on the Friday before a holiday," said one climate advocate. "They're ashamed, and they should be."

Jake Johnson ·

As US Rolls Back Reproductive Rights, Sierra Leone Moves to Decriminalize Abortion

"I'm hopeful today's announcement gives activists in the U.S., and especially Black women given the shared history, a restored faith that change is possible and progress can be made."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Indefensible': Outrage as New Reporting Shines Light on Biden Deal With McConnell

The president has reportedly agreed to nominate an anti-abortion Republican to a lifetime judgeship. In exchange, McConnell has vowed to stop blocking two Biden picks for term-limited U.S. attorney posts.

Jake Johnson ·

Assange Makes Final Appeal Against US Extradition

"If Julian Assange is not free, neither are we," said a protester at a Friday demonstration against the WikiLeaks founder's impending transfer. "None of us is free."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Payoff for 40 Years of Dark Money': Supreme Court Delivers for Corporate America

"It was the conservative court's larger agenda to gut the regulatory state and decimate executive powers to protect Americans' health and safety," warned one expert.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo