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House approves changes to Endangered Species Act despite veto threat

House passes bill to change reporting requirements for Endangered Species Act
White House threatens to veto GOP bill that would change reporting requirements for Endangered Species Act

The House passed a bill Tuesday that would require the government to disclose all data it relies upon when determining whether a species is endangered.

GOP supporters say the legislation was introduced in response to an increasing number of plant and animal species qualifying as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Critics warned it would increase bureaucracy and facilitate poaching.

Approved Tuesday by a 233-190 vote,  the 21st Century Endangered Species Transparency Act has little chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate. Nevertheless, the White House Office of Management and Budget issued a statement prior to the vote saying the president would veto the bill were it to pass.

The bill "would add yet another administratively burdensome reporting requirement to an already long list of reporting requirements, diverting limited agency resources away from species recovery efforts toward more paperwork,” the statement said.

Republicans contend that the bill is a way to increase government transparency, arguing that taxpayers have a right to know where their money is being spent to collect the data that inform how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service classify endangered species.

“The people of this United States are paying for all this data," said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah). "They have a right to see what it is. All this bill does is simply say the data that’s being used -- make it public.”

Critics of the bill say making the data available online could prevent scientists, local and state government officials and private landowners from sharing confidential information they do not want publicly disclosed. In addition, such information could reveal the locations of endangered animals, increasing the risk for poaching.

The cost of publishing the data could also be a concern, according to Ya-Wei "Jake" Li, a lawyer at the Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation organization. Li said it would be expensive to create and maintain the database needed to disclose all information. He added that agencies do not necessarily have the legal right to publish the data they receive.

“All it’s going to do is create more red tape and create a whole new set of hurdles for species recovery,” Li said. “It’s not to reform the Endangered Species Act. It’s to drastically weaken it.”

At Tuesday’s House vote, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said the bill was wasting Congress’ limited time in session and drawing attention away from more critical issues, such as the border crisis.

“Regardless of its merits, [changing the ESA] is simply not one of the top two issues, five issues, 10 issues, even top 100 issues that I’ve heard from my constituents about,” he said. ”Americans care about jobs, the economy, fiscal responsibility, addressing our border crisis. Having problems with the Endangered Species Act is simply not on the minds of most American families.”

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