Lawmakers, Lobbyists and the Administration Join Forces to Overhaul the Endangered Species Act

While farmers like Mr. Goehring have for years urged Congress to enact changes, the recent push has been led by David Bernhardt, the deputy interior secretary, a former oil lobbyist and lawyer whose legal clients included the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

Last December, Mr. Bernhardt convened a meeting at the Interior Department between senior political appointees and career staffers, at which he laid out his plans to streamline the law. Over the course of the spring, that plan was translated into the policy proposal unveiled on Thursday.

At the same time, on Capitol Hill, the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of House lawmakers, began coordinating a strategy. On July 12, the lawmakers unveiled a package of nine bills that, if enacted, would see more permanent changes to the law than those pushed by Mr. Bernhardt’s proposal. Legislation that is passed by Congress and signed into law by the president is less easily undone than regulatory changes.

While it is unclear if the lawmakers’ individual bills could become law this year, they also worked to add amendments to two must-pass spending bills, including the National Defense Authorization Act, which specifies the annual budget for the Pentagon.

The House-passed version of that spending bill includes provisions that would prohibit the Interior Department from putting two species of land birds, the sage grouse and the greater prairie chicken, on the endangered species list for at least 10 years. That would ensure that the habitat of those birds, encompassing millions of acres across 11 states, could remain open for oil and gas development. (The Interior Department is also moving forward with a separate regulatory plan to roll back sage grouse protections.)

In past years, such provisions would likely have died in the Senate, chiefly because they were opposed by Senator John McCain, the Republican of Arizona.

But Mr. McCain today is recuperating from brain cancer and has not been active in Washington for several months. Shepherding the measure in his stead is Senator James Inhofe, the Republican of Oklahoma who has made a signature issue of advocacy on behalf of the oil industry and denying the established science of human-caused global warming.