Weekly Columns

Arkansans want to protect our environment. Clean air, clean water and preventing exposure to toxic substances are important to our future. A clean environment helps provide good jobs, safety and health for the people of Arkansas. 

We cannot take for granted conservation and protection of our beautiful state. Sportsmen and women contribute $1.55 billion to Arkansas and support more than 25,000 jobs annually. While these things are very important to our future, I’m concerned that the Obama administration is reinterpreting the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in a manner that will hurt Arkansas families, farms, businesses and communities. 

This issue came to the attention of many Arkansans when the Obama administration said that hundreds of miles of Arkansas rivers and creeks should be designated ‘critical habitat’ for the Neosho Mucket and Rabbitsfoot Mussel. The delegation has put pressure on the administration, slowing this proposal and requiring the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to explain this scheme.  

While we continue to press back against this very broad critical habitat proposal, the administration is now trying to expand its own authority under the ESA to make it even easier to add additional critical habitat, all around the country. ESA has been on the books for more than 40 years and now this administration is using it to expand federal mandates and control private property by making it easier to designate property as ‘critical habitat.’ While I support commonsense protection of endangered species, I’m concerned with the administration’s threat to the basic rights of Arkansas property owners. 

If the administration goes forward, it will become even easier to designate areas as critical habitat, even if the protected species is not living in the area designated and if guarding the area is not necessary to protect the species. 

I’ve heard from many concerned Arkansans about the critical habitat designation in our state. The President of the Arkansas Farm Bureau testified before the House Natural Resources Committee last month about the negative impact this designation will have on the state’s farming industry, telling reporters after that this designation would be devastating to our state. 

I’m using my position as Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Water & Wildlife to challenge this reinterpretation of a law after four decades. I’m working to scale back critical habitat designations to prevent the government from trespassing on the rights of private property owners. I’m also working to make the administration be honest about the costs of its ESA proposals. Just last week, I joined three colleagues who serve on committees with oversight on the ESA in urging the administration to reverse course on its reinterpretation of the ESA. We said that if the Obama administration doesn’t like the law as it’s written, they cannot just reinterpret it. Congress provides checks-and-balances, and reforms have to be considered in an open and transparent way. 

It’s also important to remember that the administration’s proposal of critical habitat in Arkansas is the result of lawsuit settlement between special interest groups and the FWS. The settlement, reached behind closed doors, expanded the number of species on the endangered species list. This practice is commonly referred to as ‘sue-and-settle’, under which the government settles ‘friendly’ lawsuits with plaintiffs to claim a ‘court mandate’ for regulatory action. 

This all happens without the input of local citizens. That’s why I helped Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) author legislation that would limit the administration’s ‘sue-and-settle’ practice and allow communities, property owners and other citizens to have a voice in the conservation process. 

We need to protect our environment, but we can do that within the bounds of the law and without taking away the rights of citizens.