-- Chris Scharpf
Highlights of Rep. Pombo's proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act:
Eliminates Independent Federal Oversight.
The Endangered Species Act requires that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or
Fisheries Service biologists review all federal actions that may harm
endangered species. The review is done only on the basis of the best
available science. It is conducted by scientists who are completely
independent of the federal agency proposing the harmful action.
The Pombo bill allows the exemption of individual projects and entire
categories of actions from independent review and instead substitutes
undefined "alternate procedures. As Pombo and the Bush administration have
consistently pushed to shield federal agency actions from environmental
review by the Fish and Wildlife Service, there is concern that the
"alternate procedures" will eliminate independent oversight over a vast
array of habitat destruction projects.
Eliminates Critical Habitat.
The Endangered Species Act requires the designation of mapped-out "critical
habitat" areas for all threatened and endangered species. Critical habitat
is the only portion of the Act which directly protects ecosystems in
themselves, regardless of whether an endangered species currently reside
there -- because it may need to reclaim that habitat in order to recover.
Critical habitat is the only portion of the Act which expressly establishes
a recovery management standard. It works: Species with critical habitat are
twice as likely to be recovering as species without it.
Pombo's bill completely eliminates critical habitat from the Endangered
Makes Recovery Plans Optional.
Recovery plans constitute road maps for specific actions that will lead to a
species' resurgence and eventual removal from the threatened and endangered
species list. The Endangered Species Act requires development of recovery
Pombo's bill would allow the federal government to choose which creatures
get a recovery plan and which do not
Destructive Projects Proceed by Default.
The Endangered Species Act currently requires that a destructive project can
not proceed until it is reviewed and approved by government scientists. The
review can not take place unless the agency or corporation proposing the
project provides detailed information about the project and its likely
Pombo's bill turns this precautionary process on its head by specifying
that destructive projects are allowed to proceed unless government
scientists intercede to stop it. The scientists will have little information
to make such an intercession, because the Pombo bill allows agencies to
simply provide the "nature, the specific location, and the anticipated
schedule and duration of the proposed action." This is not enough
information to support a scientific review.
Eliminates and Politicizes Science.
The Endangered Species Act currently requires that all decisions be made on
the basis of "the best available scientific information." Wisely, the Act
does not define "best available" because scientific technology, knowledge,
and methods constantly change. The Act leaves it up to the scientific
community to determine the best science available. Pombo's bill requires a
politically appointee, the Secretary of Interior, to issue regulations
predetermining the definition of best science.
The Pombo bill also codifies a Bush Administration policy that has been
widely condemned by scientists and rejected by courts. The policy, and the
bill, prohibit the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Fisheries Service from
updating conservation plans for private lands that receive government
funding or permits to destroy habitat, even if those plans are not working
as intended -- unless the private land owner holding the permit agrees. Thus
new scientific information and the results of biological monitoring no would
longer require updating of conservation plans.
Eliminates Species Protections and Up-To-Date Science.
As currently written, the Endangered Species Act provides full protection to
each new animal or plant added to the endangered species list. Pombo's bill
allows the Fish and Wildlife Service and Fisheries Service to sign an
agreement with individual states prior to a species being listed, which
would prohibit new protections for that creature. If a species were to be
listed despite the presence of such an agreement, it would indicate that the
agreement was necessarily insufficient to protect it. But such an agreement
would have the force of law even though scientists had already determined
that it allowed the animal or plant to proceed toward endangerment.
Slows Species Protections.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a nationwide policy protecting
threatened species from unregulated take (i.e. killing, harming or
harassing). Pombo's bill prohibits this efficient national approach,
requiring the agency to issue separate regulations for each threatened
Prevents and Bureaucratizes the Listing of Endangered Species.
The Endangered Species Act currently allows the listing of species,
subspecies, and "distinct population segments." Pombo's bill makes it
harder to list populations by requiring that it be done "sparingly" --
thus allowing different populations of a species to slip away one by one
instead of taking action early.
The Endangered Species Act requires that decisions to place species on the
endangered list be done solely on the basis of the best available scientific
information. In 2003, the Government Accountability Office issued a report
(at the request of Congressman Pombo) which found that Fish and Wildlife
Service listing decisions are scientifically sound. Pombo's bill would
bureaucratize a system that is already working fine by making petitioners
supply the agency with documents it already possesses and making the agency
post all those documents on a website. While this will not affect listing
decisions, it dramatically increases burdensome, unnecessary paperwork tasks
for scientists in government, academia and the conservation community
Bankrupts the Endangered Species Act with an Expansive "Taking" Provision.
Pombo's bill requires the federal government to pay private landowners for
the loss of commercial value when an action (logging, development, etc) is
prohibited by the protections of the Endangered Species Act. Pombo has
hidden this provision under the misleading rubric of "conservation aid."
The bill specifies that "The amount of the Aid is to be no less than the
fair market value of the forgone use of the affected portion of the
property" -- meaning that the federal government would have to pay for
profits that developers hoped to gain by developing that portion of the
land, including any profits lost due to mitigations asked of the landowner,
such as retaining riparian corridors or protecting a small part of the land.
Not only would this provision deplete the federal budget, it would set a
precedent to require the government to pay industry for any profits lost to
environmental protections, and would reward developers who plan the maximum
and most potentially profitable projects for the most ecologically important
habitats. In short, it begs developers to plan projects that allow them to
extort payment from the government.
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