SEATTLE (AP) — Veteran Republican U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, who represented central Washington for two decades and was a key voice in public lands and energy policy, announced Thursday he'll retire at the end of the year.
As chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Hastings recently took on the Endangered Species Act, calling for an overhaul of the law to curtail environmentalist lawsuits and give more power to states. Hastings and other GOP critics contend the 40-year-old law has been abused by environmental groups seeking to restrict development in the name of species protection.
"The biggest problem is that the Endangered Species Act is not recovering species," Hastings said at a news conference last week where 13 GOP lawmakers proposed "targeted reforms" for the law that protects imperiled plants and animals.
"The way the act was written, there is more of an effort to list (species as endangered or threatened) than to delist" them after declaring they are no longer threatened, Hastings said. Born in Spokane, the Pasco-based lawmaker was first elected to the U.S. House in 1994 after beating then-congressman Jay Inslee, the current Washington governor. Before his career in the nation's capital, Hastings served in the state House from 1979 to 1987.
"Last Friday, I celebrated my 73rd birthday, and while I have the ability and seniority to continue serving Central Washington, it is time for the voters to choose a new person with new energy to represent them in the people's House," Hastings said in a statement.
He added his children, their spouses and his eight grandchildren all now reside in Washington state, and he looks forward to spending more time with them and his wife, Claire. "In addition to being a skilled legislator and leader, he's the epitome of grace and class, and he's a very dear friend," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. "I'm grateful for Doc's service to our institution and our nation, and for his friendship and support throughout our many years together in the House."
Hasting's 4th congressional district includes national forests, federal wilderness areas, the Grand Coulee Dam, the Yakama Indian Reservation and two massive federal irrigation projects that provide water for much of the state, as well as a vast array of croplands, vineyards and orchards. It has been safely Republican since he took over.
Voters in in the district have been reliably conservative, rejecting gay marriage, marijuana legalization by large margins as well as preferring Republican candidates at all federal levels and the governor's office.
"I always appreciated Doc's hard work on behalf of the 4th District," the governor said in a statement. "Despite the fact that we each beat the other once, we had a good working relationship, could enjoy a laugh together and swapped plenty of basketball tales. I appreciate Claire's contribution to this state, too, and on behalf of all Washingtonians wish them both good luck in retirement."
The Natural Resources Committee, which Hastings took the chairmanship of in 2011 after the Republicans took control of the House, has jurisdiction over most of the nation's public lands and plays a pivotal role in shaping federal energy, environment, land use and natural resource policies.
One of his critics didn't mince words on Hastings' work in the committee. "He has been a forceful advocate for oil, gas and mining interests on public lands, and has been a determined 'Dr. No' when Western communities have wanted to protect nearby lands for outdoor recreation and wilderness," said Matt Lee-Ashley, a fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress.
Before taking over the Natural Resources panel in 2011, Hastings was best known for efforts to clean up the Hanford nuclear complex in his district. Hastings, who was close to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., also took on one of the most thankless jobs in politics: investigating the alleged wrongdoing of colleagues as chairman of the House ethics committee. In 2005, Hastings oversaw a contentious ethics complaint against then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.