Endangered Species Act
changes in the works; Officials are considering
changing enforcement of the 1973 law to protect
animals, a leaked draft reveals.
By Janet Wilson and Julie Cart, LA Times March 28,
FOLLOWED BY: Endangered
species reform may be imminent,
Western Round Table 3/28/07
Bush administration officials said Tuesday that
they were reviewing proposed changes to the way
the 34-year-old Endangered Species Act is
enforced, a move that critics say would weaken the
law in ways that a Republican majority in Congress
was unable to do.
A draft of suggested changes, which was leaked
Tuesday, would reduce protection for wildlife
habitat and transfer some authority over
vulnerable species to states.
Acting under orders from Interior Secretary Dirk
Kempthorne, who has long fought for changes in the
law, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H.
Dale Hall said he had asked his senior field staff
to evaluate proposals in the draft by policy
advisors in the Departments of Interior and
Commerce, which oversee almost 1,300 imperiled
"What we're attempting to do is to update our
implementation of the existing law," said Hall,
who said any changes would not need to be approved
by Congress and would be signed by Kempthorne or a
"The act is written or not written by Congress,
but we have the responsibility to implement the
law through regulations and policies. We're trying
to bring consistency and clarity. That has been a
significant problem from one area of the country
to another," Hall said.
Hall made his comments after environmental groups
and the online journal Salon.com published a draft
version of the proposals Tuesday. He said that the
version was "a beginning point" circulated
internally to eight senior Fish and Wildlife staff
in early February, and that it had changed a great
deal since. He refused to make public the current
version, saying he wanted his staff to be free
from "outside interference" while they evaluated
He and a Wildlife Service spokesman said that if
any of the ideas were formally proposed, they
would be posted online and there would be an
opportunity for public comment.
"It's sort of a work in progress," spokesman Chris
Tollefson said. "Nothing is proposed at this
point; we're still working through this."
Contending that the act penalized property owners
and made the cost of public works projects
prohibitive, House Republicans in particular have
been trying to make changes since 1995.
Last year, the House and Senate failed to agree on
changes that proponents said could have helped
speed approvals for dams, housing developments,
highways and other projects where protected
species live. Changes in the act could have a
significant effect in California, which has the
second-highest number of endangered species in the
nation after Hawaii.
Congressional staffers said Tuesday that they were
studying the draft and could not immediately
comment. Senate environment and public works
chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) issued a brief
statement, saying: "I will vigorously oppose any
weakening of the Endangered Species Act, which has
saved the American bald eagle, and which is now
playing a role in saving the polar bear."
Environmental groups said the
draft changes would cripple the law.
"Taken together, this proposal would fundamentally
gut the purpose and the intent of the Endangered
Species Act. Fewer species would be protected, the
standards intended to help them survive and
recover would be fundamentally weakened, and very
likely more species will go extinct," said Jan
Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice.
Since Bush became president, 57 species have been
declared endangered, usually as a result of
lawsuits — fewer than any president since the law
was signed by President Nixon in 1973.
Damien Schiff, an attorney with the Pacific Legal
Foundation representing landowners and developers
battling endangered species restrictions, said of
the draft: "It's certainly not a gutting of the
Endangered Species Act. It is at most an
incremental change that might provide moderate or
small benefits to the regulated community."
He said that under the version made public, plans
for dams to provide electricity and irrigation for
farming could proceed with less hindrance even if
endangered or threatened species were present. He
said that in an extreme case, it was possible a
species could become extinct, but only if it was
determined that a greater public value such as
providing water or power was being served.
The draft contains language from Kempthorne's
proposed 1998 legislation and from a controversial
bill by former Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy),
both of which died in Congress. Kempthorne could
not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Tollefson said
of the proposals: "The initial work was done
before Mr. Kempthorne took office, but really the
impetus happened when he came. He has … had a
special interest in the Endangered Species Act for
a long time, and he asked [Fish and Wildlife
chief] Dale [Hall] to figure out a way to take a
look at the act and figure out what we could do."
ENDANGERED SPECIES REFORMS MAY BE
Western Round Table March 28, 2007
Roundtable Members &
After three years of
intense work both inside the Beltway and
at the grassroots level by the
Roundtable, the Partnership for America
and our many allies, we may finally be on
the cusp of securing very significant
reforms of the Endangered Species Act.
In recent months, we
have been working intensely to encourage
the Bush Administration to release a
package of ESA reforms via various
administrative processes (such as
regulatory reforms, new agency guidance,
Secretarial directives, etc.).
According to documents
made public yesterday by an environmental
group (Center For Biological Diversity),
the Administration may be close to
releasing such a package of reforms.
These documents were apparently leaked to
this environmental group by federal
employees associated with PEER (Public
Employees For Environmental
You can see these
We are analyzing these
documents now. But we should
underscore that it is not yet known
whether these documents contain the final
version of what is expected to be
released, or whether or not the
Administration will release anything at
However, if the
Administration does proceed with a
significant reform package that our
members and allies can support, we will
need to launch an immediate and
overwhelming grassroots and grasstops
campaign to support these reforms. The
focus of this effort must be to ensure
that these reforms go forward and the
Congress does not pass legislation to
hobble or block their implementation.
We will send you a more
detailed analysis of these documents in
the next several days. In the meantime,
please have appropriate people in your
organization review them and get back to
us with any preliminary comments or
President & CEO
Western Business Roundtable
350 Indiana Street, Suite 640
Golden, CO 80401