Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 5, 2017

Contact: Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121,

House Republicans Introduce Legislation Targeting Citizen Lawsuits Over Endangered Species

Bill Would Hamper Ordinary Citizens in Enforcing Endangered Species Act

WASHINGTON— Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) has introduced legislation that would impede citizens across the political spectrum from taking the government to court when it fails to fully meet the legal requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

The bill would significantly reduce attorneys' fees paid when a private party prevails in court, making it harder for ordinary citizens, conservationists, industry groups and even state and local governments to ensure the federal government is following the law. Rep. Huizenga introduced similar legislation in the previous two Congresses.

“Being able to hold the government accountable when it breaks the law is a fundamental right that's been around since the beginning of this country's history,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Like the dozens of other Republican bills attacking the Endangered Species Act, this legislation would end in disaster by making it harder for citizens to ensure endangered species get the protection they need to survive in a timely manner.”

The ability of citizens to go to court has been critical to implementation of the Endangered Species Act. A majority of species protected under the Act only received such protection because of citizen suits and petitions. Scientific research demonstrates that citizens both identified species at greater risk of extinction and sped protections for species stuck in the listing process. That research also found that litigated species were more threatened than non-litigated species, highlighting the crucial role citizens play in identifying those animals and plants in need of the Act's protections. The bill would hamper this process by raising the bar on when citizens are entitled to recover fees and by capping those fees below market rate.

“Citizen lawsuits under the Endangered Species Act have resulted in protections for numerous species that would have otherwise gone extinct waiting for the government to step in and save them,” said Hartl. “The polar bear, the spotted owl and hundreds of other animals and plants would never have received federal protection if not for the citizen suit provision and our ability to challenge our government.”

Congress has long recognized the importance of citizen suits as a means to hold executive agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or Environmental Protection Agency accountable. Under the Equal Access to Justice Act, Endangered Species Act and other environmental statutes, citizens are allowed to recover attorneys' fees at market rates when winning a case against the government or compelling it to take a required action, such as protecting a species as threatened or endangered. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), one of the original sponsors of the Equal Access to Justice Act, characterized these provisions as leveling the playing field against “the unlimited resources and legal expertise of the Federal Government.” 

“Deep-pocketed corporate polluters will always have the money to go to court and fight protections for wildlife, land or water, but you and I won't,” said Brett Hartl. “This bill would put a thumb on the scale in favor of wealthy campaign contributors and against the majority of Americans.”

Since January congressional Republicans have introduced 34 attacks against the Endangered Species Act or particular endangered species. Since the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 2011, more than 271 attacks have been launched. These attacks continue despite the fact that 9 out of 10 Americans support the Endangered Species Act and want it either strengthened or left unchanged by Congress, according to a 2015 poll.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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