Cornyn's bill aims to curb ESA litigation settlement abuses

US Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) introduced legislation designed to address regulatory impacts from federal Endangered Species Act closed-door litigation settlements between the US Fish and Wildlife Service and environmental organizations.

Cornyn said S. 19, which he introduced Feb. 27, would give local governments, businesses, and landowners input in settlements from which they’ve been excluded. “ESA litigation abuse has shut out those folks most affected by the kind of closed-door settlements we’ve seen,” he declared. “My bill opens up the process to give job creators and local officials a say.”

In 2011, two environmental groups settled multidistrict litigation with FWS that resulted in a “work plan” for the US Department of the Interior agency to make endangered species list determinations for hundreds of species, according to Cornyn. The settlement also required taxpayers to pay the plaintiffs’ legal bills, he added.

The groups sued FWS because it failed to meet certain statutory deadlines after being flooded with requests to list hundreds of species, the senator said. “Closed-door ESA settlements like these not only threaten unwarranted regulation, but give plaintiffs undue leverage over local land owners, businesses and elected officials in the conservation process,” he indicated.

Cornyn said the bill specifically would apply to these so-called citizen suits, limit the amount of taxpayer dollars to fund the actions, give local governments and other stakeholders a say in settlements which affect them, and preserve FWS’s authority.

13 GOP cosponsors

Thirteen other Senate Republicans cosponsored S. 19, which was referred to the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Kathleen Sgamma, vice-president of government and public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance, said the Denver organization of Rocky Mountain independent oil and gas producers has seen a number of these closed-door settlements between the federal government and environmental groups, with no input from the public and local elected officials, not only with the ESA but also with the US Environmental Protection Agency and other DOI agencies.

“It’s a way for the government to collude with environmentalists and pursue an agenda that doesn’t take job and economic impacts into consideration,” she told OGJ on Feb. 28. “We’re very pleased that Sen. Cornyn has introduced this bill.”

So was Kent Holsinger, founder and principal of Holsinger Law LLC in Denver, which specializes in land, wildlife, and water law. “There’s a pressing need to address litigation abuses under the ESA, and some of the concepts contained in the legislation go a long way toward doing just that,” he told OGJ in response to a telephone inquiry on Feb. 28.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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