Democratic leaders on the House Natural Resources Committee opted Wednesday to prioritize a bill regulating big cat ownership over legislation that would boost domestic energy production.
The panel prioritized consideration of the Big Cat Public Safety Act — a bill intended to regulate private ownership of tigers, lions, leopards and pumas — during its first full committee markup hearing since early April.
The legislation was the first of 15 bills, none of which involve boosting domestic energy supplies or production, that the committee considered during the hearing.
The bill has been promoted by animal rights groups including the Humane Society of the United States, Animal Wellness Action and Big Cat Rescue, the animal sanctuary featured on the Netflix documentary series “Tiger King.”
Democratic California Rep. Jared Huffman, the chairman of the panel’s Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee, noted that the Netflix series revealed “a dark, dangerous side of keeping lions, tigers and other big cats in captivity” during the markup hearing Wednesday.
“It shows me that their priorities aren’t the priorities of the American people,” Ranking Member Bruce Westerman told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an interview. “It’s amazing that we’ve got record high fuel prices, we’ve got water shortages in the West, we’ve got wildfires that are raging and are going to get worse and the focal piece of legislation is going to be a big cat bill based off of a Netflix series.”
The American Energy Independence from Russia Act was among the pending energy-related bills the committee chose not to mark up Wednesday, according to Westerman. In March, Westerman and House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers introduced the bill which would restart the Keystone XL pipeline, boost natural gas exports and restart fossil fuel leasing on federal lands.
Westerman added that Democrats need to stop streaming TV shows and turn on “their local news broadcast” during the hearing. Westerman and committee Republicans are expected to widely oppose the legislation, an internal GOP memo obtained by TheDCNF showed.
“The irony about the big cat bill is it could probably be a suspension bill except they want to use this to weaponize the Lacey Act to further another political agenda,” Westerman said. “So we’ve shown them how to fix the bill and we can pass it to the committee and out of the House easily. But they refuse to listen to that.”
The Lacey Act of 1900 is a conservation bill that places restrictions on wildlife trafficking. Westerman noted that both the Lacey Act and state laws tightly restrict big cat ownership and that the bill considered Wednesday was more about garnering headlines.
“It’s an attempt for a diversion from the real issues which, again, are inflation, fuel prices, food prices, not to mention crime and a porous border,” he told TheDCNF.
Democratic Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, a member of the Natural Resources Committee, and Republican Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick reintroduced the Big Cat Public Safety Act in January 2021, shortly after the beginning of the current Congress. The House previously passed the bill 272-114 in December 2020 with 48 Republicans voting alongside the entire Democratic caucus but didn’t receive a vote in the Senate.
“The bill is endorsed by dozens of law enforcement groups and individuals including the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Fraternal Order of Police,” Howard Baskin, a Big Cat Rescue board member and husband of the group’s founder Carole Baskin, told TheDCNF in an email. “It has a total of over 300 bipartisan supporters in the House and Senate combined for very good reason.”
“It ends an enormous amount of misery inflicted on magnificent animals who deserve better from us and it substantially reduces the likelihood that first responders will have to face down 300+ pound predators, something they are not trained to do and should not have to do,” he continued.
Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment from TheDCNF.