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GOP lawmakers urge overhaul of Endangered Species Act

BILLINGS, Mont. — Republicans in Congress called Tuesday for an overhaul to the Endangered Species Act to curtail environmentalists’ lawsuits and give more power to states, but specialists say broad changes to one of the nation’s cornerstone environmental laws are unlikely given the pervasive partisan divide in Washington

A group of 13 lawmakers released a report proposing ‘‘targeted reforms’’ for the federal law, which protects imperiled plants and animals.

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Proponents credit the law with staving off extinction for hundreds of species — from the bald eagle to the gray whale. But critics contend the law has been abused by environmental groups seeking to restrict development.

Led by Representative Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Representative Doc Hastings of Washington state, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, the Republicans want to amend the law to limit litigation from wildlife advocates that has resulted in protections for some species. And they want to give states more authority over imperiled species within their borders.

Also among the recommendations are increased scientific transparency, better economic impact studies, and safeguards for private landowners.

The Republicans said only 2 percent of protected species have been recovered despite billions of dollars in federal and state spending.

‘‘The biggest problem is that the Endangered Species Act is not recovering species,’’ said Hastings. ‘‘The way the act was written, there is more of an effort to list [species as endangered or threatened] than to delist.’’

The political hurdles for an overhaul are considerable. The law enjoys support among many environmentalists, whose Democratic allies have thwarted past proposals for change.

Federal wildlife officials had not yet seen the report from Hastings’ group and would not comment until they review it, said a press secretary for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

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