U.S. Senate committee passes Sen. Jerry Moran’s amendment prohibiting ‘threatened’ listing of Lesser Prairie-chicken

By Justin Wingerte

The Topeka Capital-Journal

A U.S. Senate committee has approved an amendment barring the federal Fish and Wildlife Service from enforcing its listing of the Lesser Prairie-chicken as a threatened species.

On Thursday, June 19, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $30 billion measure to fund the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency, among other departments. The committee, the largest in the Senate, approved the measure along party lines, with all 16 Republicans voting in favor and all 14 Democrats voting against.

Lesser Prairie-chicken

Lesser Prairie-chicken

Attached to the legislation was an amendment by Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, “to prohibit the use of funds to implement or enforce the threatened species listing of the Lesser Prairie-chicken under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.”

Moran’s amendment was approved by the same 16-14 vote as the full legislation. A measure to remove the Moran amendment and other divisive measures limiting the powers of the EPA and Interior Department failed on a 14-16 party line vote.

“I was pleased the Senate Appropriations Committee acted today to protect Kansas and rural America from the consequences of the listing of the Lesser Prairie-chicken,” Moran said in a statement.

Despite passage, the future of Moran’s amendment and the appropriations bill it is attached to remain in question. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said the bill’s amendments are likely to draw a veto from President Barack Obama.

“These riders are terrible policy,” Udall said of the bill’s amendments. “They’re nothing more than a special interest giveaway to polluters. And they also have a proven track record of derailing the appropriations process.”

In addition to Moran’s amendment, the Senate legislation contains a measure to bar the threatened or endangered listing of the Greater Sage-grouse and an amendment to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list.

The attachment of amendments, or riders, to appropriations bills is a common tactic employed by members of Congress to direct federal agencies to act in a certain manner. During a speech Sunday at the conservative Ripon Society in Washington, Moran touted Congress’ power over federal agencies.

“Only when we have the power of the purse do they start paying attention to us,” Moran said. “It creates a dialogue, an opportunity to have conversation with a cabinet secretary or an agency head. And if they don’t listen or are uncooperative, you have the greater threat, which is no money can be spent.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service has said the “threatened” listing of the Lesser Prairie-chicken was the result of a steep decline in the bird’s populations in recent years. Five states are home to the Lesser Prairie-chicken: Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Together, the states had fewer than 18,000 Lesser Prairie-chickens in 2013.

But opponents in Kansas of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing have argued for years that classifying the Lesser Prairie-chicken as threatened places unfair conservation fees and restrictions on farmers, ranchers and oil companies.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted prematurely when listing the Lesser Prairie-chicken,” Moran said. “The five states with habitat area … came together with stakeholders to develop a broadly supported plan to conserve the bird. However, they were not given adequate time to implement the conservation plan due to the federal government unnecessarily stepping in and listing the bird as a threatened species.”

A U.S. House version of the Interior-EPA appropriations bill doesn’t limit the Fish and Wildlife Service’s ability to enforce its listing of the Lesser Prairie-chicken as a threatened species, though it does contain amendments similar to those in the Senate bill, including a measure by Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., to defund the EPA’s efforts to update ozone regulations.

On May 15, House members agreed 229-190 to approve an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would “prohibit the further listing of the Lesser Prairie-chicken as a threatened or endangered species until 2021.” All four members of Kansas’ House delegation voted in favor.

“With passage of this amendment, we begin ending the massive regulatory threat to our rural way of life from the ill-conceived listing of the Lesser Prairie-chicken,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp said in a statement that day. “It is high time that we place a greater value on the citizens of rural America than the Lesser Prairie-chicken.”