Committee Report Uncovers Lack of Independence & Accountability of Peer Review Process for ESA Listing Decisions

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Natural Resources committeeWASHINGTON, D.C. – House Nat­ur­al Resources Com­mit­tee major­i­ty staff released a report today that ques­tions the inde­pen­dence and account­abil­i­ty of  the peer review process in recent Endan­gered Species Act (ESA) list­ing deci­sions.  The report enti­tled, “Under the Micro­scope: An exam­i­na­tion of the ques­tion­able sci­ence and lack of inde­pen­dent peer review in Endan­gered Species Act list­ing deci­sions” stud­ies the fed­er­al government’s peer review process for 13 dif­fer­ent ESA list­ing deci­sions made by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Ser­vice (FWS) since July 2013.  The report found numer­ous exam­ples of poten­tial bias and con­flicts of inter­ests with the peer review­ers and a lack of trans­paren­cy and con­sis­ten­cy in the peer review process.


 “The deci­sion of whether or not to list a species under the Endan­gered Species Act has sig­nif­i­cant impli­ca­tions for the econ­o­my and liveli­hoods of impact­ed com­mu­ni­ties and pri­vate landown­ers.  As such, these impor­tant deci­sions must be based on sound sci­ence that has under­gone an inde­pen­dent peer review.  This report rais­es trou­bling con­cerns about the lack of inde­pen­dence of the peer review process and whether many cur­rent, upcom­ing or recent­ly final­ized list­ing deci­sions, such as the White Bluffs Blad­der­pod in my Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton dis­trict, are sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly sound,” said House Nat­ur­al Resources Com­mit­tee Chair­man Doc Hast­ings (WA-04).   “With hun­dreds of ESA list­ings dri­ven by this Administration’s closed-door set­tle­ments with liti­gious groups, dis­cov­ery of any poten­tial bias about how ESA data and sci­ence are reviewed casts seri­ous doubt on the cred­i­bil­i­ty of these deci­sions, and pro­vides more evi­dence that the ESA needs con­tin­ued over­sight and updating.”


Spe­cif­ic find­ings of the report include:


·         The FWS does not have clear or con­sis­tent poli­cies and pro­ce­dures in place across all Regions to ensure that peer review­ers with poten­tial con­flicts of inter­est are iden­ti­fied and screened;


·         The FWS gen­er­al­ly seeks peer review of its pro­posed list­ing deci­sions at the same time they are made avail­able for pub­lic com­ment, rather than ear­li­er in the process when the peer review­ers may have more mean­ing­ful input;


·         The FWS reg­u­lar­ly recruits the same sci­en­tists on whose work a list­ing deci­sion is based to serve as peer review­ers, includ­ing those who have known pol­i­cy posi­tions or affil­i­a­tions with advo­ca­cy groups that sup­port the list­ing deci­sion, rather than tru­ly inde­pen­dent scientists;


·         The FWS uses sci­en­tists as peer review­ers who have received grants or oth­er finan­cial assis­tance from the Depart­ment of the Inte­ri­or and its bureaus and oth­er agen­cies; and


·         The FWS rou­tine­ly with­holds from the pub­lic the iden­ti­ties of peer review­ers, qual­i­fi­ca­tions of peer review­ers, and details about their comments.