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Pombo discusses new bill
Pombo Seeks To Overhaul Species Act
By Mike Taugher
posted to KBC 9/13/05
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Tracy Republican Richard Pombo plans to introduce a comprehensive rewrite of one of the nation's strongest environmental laws in the coming weeks, a move that is expected to be the most significant attempt to revamp the Endangered Species Act in nearly a decade.
As chairman of the influential House Resources Committee and a fierce, career-long critic of the nation's foremost wildlife law, Pombo has the ability to put some wind behind the sails of his bill.
But attempts to change the endangered species law have always proven difficult, and Pombo's efforts in the past have been particularly controversial.
The 1973 law prohibits the killing of bald eagles and allowed reintroduction of wolves to regions of the country where they had been driven to near-extinction. It also places limits on development and government projects in the name of species that run the gamut from foxes to freshwater shrimp.
The law has been used to protect spotted owls and shut down timber operations, and in the past two decades has been invoked in increasingly tense situations.
Supporters say the law is often the only way natural resources can be protected from destruction, while detractors say it prevents legitimate activities, including construction, logging and water diversions.
In a recent interview with the Times editorial board, Pombo predicted bipartisan support for his bill and said that negotiations with Democrats are about 95 percent complete.
"If it goes the way I expect, most of the Democrats on the committee will either be original co-sponsors or will vote for it," Pombo said.
A spokeswoman for the top Democrat on the Resources Committee, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., offered a cautious assessment.
"Congressman Rahall is negotiating in good faith with Chairman Pombo on (ideas) to amend the Endangered Species Act," Rahall spokeswoman Kristen Bossi said in an e-mail exchange. "It is too early to say to what extent Democrats on the committee will support a bill once it is introduced."
Environmentalists were less diplomatic and more skeptical.
"He's claimed (bipartisan support) many times in the past, and he never seems to have it," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson-based environmental group.
"It sounds very unlikely," Suckling said.
Pombo said he expects to introduce the bill in his committee later this month, and pass it to the full House of Representatives.
If that happens, it would be the first time a comprehensive rewrite of the endangered species law has gotten to the floor in years, said Pombo spokesman Brian Kennedy.
The last major rewrite was also a Pombo-led effort that passed committee but was short-circuited in 1996, an election year, and never reached the floor. Then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich was reported at the time to be concerned that the bill would allow opponents to portray Republicans as hostile to the environment.
In his interview with the Times, Pombo offered some highlights of his draft bill, which has not been released. He said it would:
* Require the federal agency that enforces the ESA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to prepare recovery plans for endangered species and then design habitat protection to fit those recovery plans. Doing so, Pombo said, would limit the agency's desire to unnecessarily "control land" by protecting habitat that is not critical to species recovery;
* Offer grants and tax breaks to private landowners who conserve endangered species habitat;
* Require that outside experts review the science in decisions to list species as endangered and to design recovery plans. Pombo asserted that such "peer review" is not done today. However, the Government Accountability Office in 2003 reported that decisions to list species are subject to peer review and experts "generally support the science behind those decisions."
Other than the peer review requirement, which environmentalists see as a ruse to infuse politics or landowner interests into the scientific process, the details offered by Pombo are not controversial.
But environmentalists are concerned about new details that will emerge in the final bill. A leaked draft from July contained a number of provisions that worried conservationists.
For example, the earlier draft called for eliminating the requirement that an endangered species be recovered, stripping protection for "threatened" species that have not yet reached the level of endangerment, and making it far more difficult to get protection for species that are not endangered throughout their entire ranges, said Suckling, the environmentalist.
Pombo distanced himself from that early draft, saying he read it on the Internet.
"That was just a working draft," Pombo said, adding that the latest draft contains, "a lot of differences."
MONDAY SEPTEMBER 12, 2005 Last modified: Friday, September 9, 2005 5:42 PM
OPINION - Updated ESA Restores Balance
By Norm Semanko, Idaho Water Users Association executive director
The immense human tragedy unfolding along America's Gulf Coast has consumed the news media's coverage of items of national interest. So you may not know that Congress is now considering a piece of legislation with immense
implications to our country.
It's called TESRA, an acronym for the Threatened and Endangered Species
Recovery Act of 2005. It is the first update and modernization in more than
30 years of the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. House of Representatives
Resource Committee has been working on the legislation for two years and
will be ready to bring the bill to the full House floor the week of Sept.
This Congressional action is truly gratifying. Our country -- and the West
in particular -- desperately needs the improvements it brings to the
Endangered Species Act.
Consider this: In the past 31 years, more than 1,300 species were listed as
endangered; only 10 have actually been recovered. Meanwhile, radical
environmental groups have been busy manipulating the Act to put people out
of work and intrude upon private property rights.
By any reasonable standard of performance, that track record is simply
unacceptable. That dismal success rate should stand as a classic symbol of
failure not success.
If we are serious as a nation about protecting and recovering endangered
species, while at the same time protecting private property rights, then we
must do better. This updated and modernized version does just that. The
Resources Committee has worked on this issue for the past two years, and has
identified most problems of interest to water users through field hearings.
TESRA 2005 calls for updating and modernizing the ESA so federal agencies
can use the best available science in decision-making, provide incentives to
encourage landowners to participate in recovery efforts and involve local,
state and tribal governments in the process.
It is designed to help recover endangered species without endangering the
jobs and livelihoods of American families by requiring that economic impacts
and benefits be considered before final designation of critical habitat.
This includes landowners' revenue as well as the impact on revenues of state
and local governments. Because most of the habitat of listed species is on
private land, the bill also will uphold the right of citizens to seek just
compensation for the "taking" of private property.
That's critical to Idaho because we have repeatedly seen how families and
communities are hurt by the ESA as it stands now. The 2001 Klamath Basin
disaster was a direct result of the current ESA. Idaho's water has been
under siege for more than a decade now by groups who continue to distort and
misuse the Act.
Environmental activists will clamor that any changes in the status quo will
"gut" the ESA. What those changes really mean is a return to some semblance
of balance and reality from well-intentioned Federal law that has simply
failed to do what was intended.
I urge all Idahoans to embrace this vital effort and to do everything they
can to help make TESRA 2005 a reality.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM Pacific
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