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Pombo eyes overhaul of Endangered Species Act
Since he was elected to Congress in 1992, Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, has steadily gained political influence in Washington, D.C.
The former rancher serves on the Committee on Agriculture and last year was elected to a powerful post -- chairman of the House Committee on Resources. As chairman of the Resources Committee, Pombo helps set policies governing oil and gas exploration, logging, water use and endangered species protection.
He's also keeping an eye on local issues like a new highway he's proposed to connect the San Joaquin Valley to Silicon Valley, and is fighting a proposal to close the Veterans Administration hospital in Livermore.
Pombo's wide-ranging 11th Congressional District includes parts of Stockton, Tracy and Manteca, comes over the hill to include Danville, San Ramon, Dublin, most of Pleasanton and parts of Sunol, and heads south to include parts of the Silicon Valley, Morgan Hill and rural areas around Gilroy.
A staunch defender of property rights, Pombo recently talked about his legislative priorities.
Q: "What's your program for the coming year? Where do you want to go; what do you want to do?"
Pombo: "On the (Resources) committee, one of the things we want to do, we have to finish a couple bills we didn't get through -- like the Marine Mammal Protection Act -- needs to be reauthorized, so that's going to be a big bill. We also want to work on endangered species, and are looking at doing science-based provisions on endangered species and how we're going to move forward with that."
(Environmental groups say the Marine Mammal Protection Act, enacted in 1972 to protect whales, dolphins, seals and other ocean mammals, would be weakened by proposed amendments approved in November by the House Resources committee. These critics say the amendments, co-sponsored by Pombo, would put marine mammals at greater risk from commercial fishing operations and military sonar. Pombo has said that some restrictions in the Marine Mammal Protection and Endangered Species acts are arbitrary and ineffective, and is pushing for "science-based" rules governing the listing of endangered species and the establishment of "critical habitat" -- land that's designated for the preservation of species.)
Pombo: "We've already started talking to a number of the senators about what they think they can do in the Senate (to amend the Endangered Species Act), and how that compares to what we can get done in the House and how far we can go in making some of the changes.
What I'd like to do is look at the pattern that we used with Healthy Forests in terms of working out the differences we have in the House and sitting down with the Senate and working out what their concerns are, so that ... instead of just spending a year debating endangered species, we actually get a bill done and get something on the president's desk."
(The Healthy Forests plan, signed into law by President Bush earlier this month, will allow some 20 million acres of forest land to be thinned over five years. Again, some environmental groups opposed the plan, claiming it allowed too much logging on public lands. Supporters blamed inaction on the bill for wildfires that swept through the West this summer.)
Pombo: "On Healthy Forests, it's kind of interesting going back and looking at the press coverage on that. Because they kept talking about how controversial it was, that it was this logging bill and all this stuff. The first time that bill went through the House, we got two-thirds of the members ... voting for it. We passed it in May, and the Senate never did anything. Finally, they passed a version of the bill. When the fires started in California, it became a much higher priority to get the bill done.
"Both California Senators voted for it the first time it went through. George Miller, D-Martinez, voted for it. The Sierra Club didn't like it. Their official policy is you can't cut a single tree on public land for any reason. Well, when you're talking about doing thinning and cleaning out the forest, that involves cutting trees, so there's nothing that we could have done to that bill get them on board.
"But if you look at the support we had on that bill, and the number of guys that we got to vote for it because we were willing to compromise and work out what their concerns were, that's the same sort of thing I'd like to do on some of these other bills ... so that by the time we get to a conference, most of the issues are done."
Q: What about drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWAR)? What's the latest?
Pombo: "We had it in the House (Energy) bill, but it was dropped out in the conference committee. What the Senate leadership told us was we needed to be able to show we had 60 votes to include it in there, and we got up to 59 votes. We could never show we had 60 votes to include it, so at the last minute they dropped it out.
"I don't think the issue is dead, I just think the easiest way to have approved it would have been as part of a big energy bill that looked at a bunch of different things. Even though people keep talking about how controversial it is, the house has approved it several times in the past, and we've always had more than 50 votes in the Senate to approve it. But we've never been able to get 60 votes to stop a filibuster on it. If we could ever actually bring it to a vote we'd have more than 50 votes in the Senate to approve it.
"I've gone round and round on that. I've been up there (to Alaska) in the winter time, I've been up in the summer time, I've looked at the facilities in existence, and looked at the plan for what they would do up there, what the environmental protections are.
"If you look at the entire thing in the context of what's there, I think people would have a different viewpoint of it. But that is something very few people have been up there and seen it, and they have a different opinion of what the impact would be. The north slope, in the context of this whole thing, is about the size of California. It's 92 million acres. The ANWAR is about 20 million acres of the almost 100 million acres. What they're talking about doing is taking about 2,000 acres on the northern plain and doing exploratory drilling on that. So you're talking about 2,000 acres out of an area that's about the size of California.
Q: Is CalFed (a cooperative agreement between local, state and federal agencies to build new storage facilities to manage scarce water supplies in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta) going to happen this year?
Pombo: "You will see an authorization for Cal-Fed. I believe we can work our way and get it approved. At this point Sen. (Dianne) Feinstein, D-Calif., wants a bill, which helps us dramatically in getting something through the Senate. We've passed an authorization through the subcommittee, and as part of this process what were trying to do is look at what agreements were come to with the so-called Napa agreement, and what agreements are being worked on right now between the south of the Delta guys and the in-Delta guys, and try to put that all together as a package to be part of a CalFed bill that would move through committee."
Q: "Before, it looked like (CalFed) was being linked to a bunch of other unrelated programs in Western states."
Pombo: "We're trying to avoid that. I can't guarantee that that's what's going to happen once it gets through the Senate, because in talking to Sen. (Pete) Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee) and Sen. (Jon) Kyl, R-Arizona, and some of those that are on the Senate side that chair the committees over there, I think that if they see a California water bill that's moving, that it will be very tempting for them to try to take care of some of their issues in their states.
"But at this point what we intend on passing through the House is a more specific California water bill that deals with an authorization to CalFed and codifying some of the agreements that are being worked out between the water users right now. I think it's necessary that we include the parts of those agreements that have to be put into law, so we can have it stand up (in court).
"One of the dangers is that these guys come up with these big agreements and then they get sued and half of it gets thrown out. Well, what kind of agreement do you have if everything is not included? So I think it's important that whatever agreements are come to we include (in the bill)."
Q:You voted in favor of the Medicare drug bill ... do you think it was a good compromise?
Pombo: "I think it was probably the best we were going to do right now. Obviously it doesn't have everything in it that I was looking for, and I quite frankly have a lot of concerns about the creation of an entitlement to expand a program that is already in financial difficulty. I think that is probably the biggest question I've got over doing the bill.
"But the reality is we were going to pass a prescription drug bill -- one way or another it was going to pass. The guys that worked the most on this bill are (satisfied). With the reforms to Medicare that are included in here, they think that's enough that we can help to pay for the prescription drug part. Even though that's still a $400 billion part of the bill, they think the reforms are good enough it helps to extend the life of Medicare into the future. I would expect that 3 or 4 or 5 years down the road we're probably going to be back fixing things that didn't turn out the way everybody thought they were when we passed the bill.
"I guess the short answer is I think it's probably the best compromise we were going to get that would pass the House and the Senate, because there are different pressures in both bodies. On the House side, the members seemed much more concerned about the cost of adding this program, and what the down the road result was going to be, whereas the Senate seemed much more concerned about having a much bigger program that included a lot more."
Q: It's not in your district, but there's talk of closing the Veterans Administration hospital in Livemore.
The argument I've used with them is that there's still a high demand at Livermore ... and this one should stay open. They're saying no decision has been made yet ...
"In a way, I kind of feel the same way I did when we went through the base closing commission, where we really didn't have control over it. You had someone else that was making the decision to do it, and we keep trying to make our arguments as to why it should stay open, but sometimes you just feel a little frustrated with the process and the way its working ...
"They've talked about if they close Livermore, expanding in either Modesto or Stockton ... which helps the people in the Central Valley, but it makes it more difficult for the people who live in the East Bay. I'm not sure there's a good answer ... we just keep trying to make the argument to them that there's an increased demand here, not a decreased demand, it doesn't make a lot of sense to close any of the facilities in this area."
Q:Where is the study of the new freeway you have proposed to link the San Joaquin Valley to San Jose?
Pombo: "That (funding for the study) was supposed to be done by August. Hopefully, that bill will pass in February ... You can only expand (Interstates) 205, 580 and 680 so much, before you run out of room. I think we're probably about at that point now."
Q: Will Republicans retain control of Congress in 2004?
Pombo: "With what they did in redistricting, it actually looks like that. If the Texas map holds, we (Republicans) will probably pick up seats in the House. And it looks like we're going to pick up seats in the Senate. A number of southern Democrat senators have retired or announced they are not going to run again, and I would guess most of those seats we will probably pick up."
Q. Your seat looks relatively safe -- will you be campaigning for others?
Pombo: "I always have tried to help other members. I suspect this year I'll be on the road and I'll travel and help other guys. In California with redistricting there really aren't any competitive races right now. Under the right circumstances, certain districts could go either way. But trying to take out an incumbent in the districts that are there would be difficult. I think probably the most competitive race you're going to have in California is going to be (Democrat Calvin) Dooley's seat in Fresno. You have no incumbent and that is a district that in a Republican year could go Republican, in a Democrat year it will go Democrat. And so that one is probably going to be the most competitive seat in California.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM Pacific
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