*For all press release inquiries, please reach out to Theresa Meyer (Theresa.Meyer@mail.house.gov)

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressmen Tom Emmer (MN-06) and Cliff Bentz (OR-02) led a letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland expressing their concern with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decision to eliminate a standard regulatory definition for critical habitats, indicating a shift to more partisan rulemaking. The letter was co-signed by House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (AR-04), Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Dan Newhouse (WA-04), and Representative James Baird (IN-04).

The recent FWS decision to rescind the regulatory definition of “habitat” reverts the apolitical, transparent designation process to a subjective case-by-case review.

“A standardized regulatory approach creates certainty, optimizes efficiency, and minimizes political bias,” said Emmer. “We owe it to our farmers, ranchers, miners, and every other American who makes their living off the land to bring back these standards.”

Representative Bentz said, “Since its passage in 1973, the Endangered species act has ballooned in scope and authority, and we now find ourselves with a behemoth of a law that hinders farming, ranching, home building, construction—just about every industry upon which this country relies. The Biden Administration chose to double down on the most heavy-handed interpretation of the law by rescinding the December 2020 definition of habitat. As a result, the agency has the ability to declare a critical habitat for a species just about anywhere. The Department of the Interior did just that in my district in 2012 when it designated a habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl that included 1.1 million acres that are not, and never have been, actual owl habitat. My colleagues and I are asking the Department of Interior to explain to the American people what legal and scientific basis, if any, guided the agency’s decision to rescind the habitat definition rule.”

Ranking Member Westerman said, "The Biden administration’s repeal of the Trump administration’s ESA definition of habitat regulation is yet another example of how out of touch Democrats are with the needs of rural Americans. Many of the reforms put in place under former President Trump, like this one, were born out of input from local communities and the men and women most affected by the policies created in Washington. Yet by revoking this regulation, this administration has created uncertainty and once again opened the door for environmental groups to weaponize the ESA and use it to delay critical projects across the country. Furthermore, the Biden administration’s actions are legally questionable, as the proposals aim to replace regulations that stem from a Supreme Court decision. Weaponization was never the purpose of the ESA, and we must bring it back to its original intent: protecting wildlife that's most at risk without crushing rural economies. Anything beyond that is nothing more than bureaucratic overreach and a giveaway to radical environmental interests. I support this letter and urge the administration to reinstate this rule.”

“Rather than placing our farmers, ranchers, and producers under the thumb of federal bureaucrats and weaponizing important laws like the Endangered Species Act, we should be empowering them to continue to contribute to our nation’s economy, food security, and energy independence,” said Chairman Newhouse. “The Biden Administration’s decision to remove the regulatory definition of habitat to return it to a case-by-case review with no clear scientific basis creates additional uncertainty for producers in my district in Central Washington and in communities throughout the United States who are already facing overburdensome regulations. I am proud to join Representatives Emmer and Bentz in working to hold the Administration accountable and provide certainty for rural America.”

Representative Baird said, “As our producers and other landowners grapple with unprecedented challenges, they deserve clear guidance from federal agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s ambiguous, ‘case by case’ review of the definition of ‘habitat’ could be muddied by political motivations and slow walked, ultimately jeopardizing our producers’ ability to maintain our food security, bolster domestic energy, and manage land appropriately. Our producers and landowners deserve clarity, which is why I’m proud to join my colleagues in demanding answers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Background:

A “critical habitat” is a habitat needed to support the recovery of one of the 1,300 species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

In December 2020, the FWS issued a rule which established the definition of “habitat.” This, coupled with a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that determined critical habitats must be active habitats for endangered species, created a static regulatory standard for the designation of critical habitats. On June 23, FWS rescinded the 2020 rule, leaving the determination of critical habitats to the judgment of FWS. Under this new action, lands do not have to be current habitats for endangered species. Instead, they can be determined critical habitats merely by being potential habitats for these species.

You can read the letter in full here.

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