Stockton Record 9/23/05
In search of a better way
Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, has reached what could
be his crowning moment in the House of
This fall, with help from members of both political
parties, he will try to push through Congress his
long-desired, wide-reaching reform of 1973's
Endangered Species Act, easily the nation's most
controversial environmental legislation.
In the House, Pombo likely will be successful.
Who would have thought in January 1993 -- when he
was sworn in for the first of his seven terms --
that the former Tracy city councilman would ever
tackle such a complicated, ambitious modernization
of federal law.
The only plausible scenarios at the time would be
those of frustration or foolishness.
But the often-underestimated Richard Pombo has spent
12 years building relationships, surprising
colleagues and consolidating his political power. He
is chairman of the House Resources Committee, and
that platform is his launching pad. Pombo has reason
to expect success in what is sure to be a
contentious debate on revamping the Endangered
Environmentalists have spent a generation building
an army of lawyers and lobbyists, whose existence
depends on battles such as the one sure to occur
over the next two months.
Pombo appears ready, and the common-sense reforms he
is proposing have merit. One evidence of the
corrective path he's on is the nature of the
bipartisan group introducing the Threatened and
Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005. Six
Democrats have joined eight Republicans as original
co-sponsors. They come from nine states and from all
parts of the country.
Pombo and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, are
In drilling home their point that one of the
proposed changes would shift primary environmental
law responsibility to state and local jurisdictions,
Pombo and Cardoza introduced the legislation at a
news conference far from Washington, D.C. -- in
At its heart, the bill would grant greater
protection to property owners in setting aside
"We want to focus on recovery of species, not land
use," Pombo told The Record. "We want to develop a
system of recovery first. What is it going to take
to lead to better numbers in recovering endangered
Pombo, Cardoza and their colleagues point out that
results from the current act have been inconsistent
at best. After 32 years:
Environmental groups cannot point to a long list of
successfully rescued creatures.
Misplaced emphasis puts a premium on setting aside
habitat without accountability for recovery.
Litigation over the law's implementation has
Interpretation has created a battleground of
opposing interests, pitting landowners,
environmentalists, recreational interests and
governments against one another.
All of this is counterproductive, argues Pombo.
Meanwhile, most of the animals that are threatened
remain endangered or on a precarious precipice.
No surprise that Pombo is the champion of changing
"The key is to compensate property owners if habitat
designation takes away the value of their land,"
said Pombo, author of 1996's "This Land is Our
Land," a book advocating private-property rights.
Critics already are pointing out that there is no
federal fund to offer large farm and ranch interests
fair-market value, thereby making the legislation
ineffective. They fear it would lead to a reduction
of set-aside habitat or, if money is available,
abuses from developers seeking to build in
environmentally sensitive areas.
These concerns must be worked out in the weeks
Pombo has devoted a sizable portion of his
congressional career in preparing for this moment.
He already has compromised on some of what he
wanted. He and the co-sponsors must be ready for
Getting this reform through Congress will lead to
more effective, more meaningful legislation only if
the bipartisanship exhibited thus far widens and
Achieving a better balance between humankind and
nature is important. So is creating a bill that can
withstand the inevitable legal and political
Pombo has invested a great deal thus far. The last
thing he wants is a solution more complicated and
confusing than the problem.