House panel near approval of major
Endangered Species Act rewrite
Corvallis Gazette Times 9/22/05
WASHINGTON — Conservative
lawmakers poised to eliminate key provisions of
the landmark 32-year-old Endangered Species Act
encountered unexpected support Wednesday: Some
environmentalists and liberal Democrats said they
agree with some of the changes.
"There is a recognition that the current critical
habitat arrangement doesn't work, for a whole host
of reasons,'' said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., a
leading liberal voice on the House Resources
Committee. "There are some in the environmental
community who think the answer is just no to any
change, and I think that's a problem.''
Miller and other
Democrats said that without substantial
amendments, they still can't support a bill by
Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif.,
that's set for a committee vote Thursday.
Pombo's bill is a top-to-bottom overhaul of the
Endangered Species Act that would delete the
federal government's ability to protect "critical
habitat'' for plants and animals and require
compensation for landowners if the government
blocks their development plans to protect certain
Landowners could move forward with development
projects that might affect species after notifying
the federal government, unless the government
objects within 90 days.
Assistant Interior Secretary Craig Manson, head of
the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the Bush
administration hasn't developed a formal position
on Pombo's bill. He said the agency agrees some
parts of the law should be changed, including
critical habitat, but other programs are
troublesome — including the proposed compensation.
Pombo, a conservative rancher, contends the
Endangered Species Act causes lawsuits and
conflicts with landowners while failing to do
enough for species. He notes that less than 1
percent of the 1,830 species listed under the act
— about 15 — have come off the list because
they've recovered; supporters counter that only
nine listed species have gone extinct.
"I am willing to do whatever we can to put the
focus on recovery and do what we can to recover
these species as long as my property owners are
protected,'' Pombo said.
Even some supporters say the designation of
critical habitat where development is limited is
driven by lawsuits, leading to bad decisions.
Critics cite the proposal to list 4.1 million
acres in California — parts of 28 of the state's
58 counties — as habitat for the red-legged frog.
But Democrats and environmentalists who were
willing to say goodbye to critical habitat wanted
Pombo to propose stronger language in other parts
of the bill in exchange. Instead they say he
erased critical habitat without including other
mechanisms to protect species' homes.
Democrats also complained that Pombo hasn't given
them enough time to study the bill. The first
hearing was Wednesday; it was set for a committee
vote Thursday; and Pombo hopes to get it through
the full House next week. Pombo last attempted to
rewrite the Endangered Species Act in the
mid-1990s, but failed.