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 7/20/05

Pombo delays ESA rewrite to court Democrats

Allison A. Freeman, E&E Daily reporter

House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) is still negotiating on his bill to revamp the Endangered Species Act and will likely not introduce the measure until after the August recess.

The committee had previously said they would introduce a bill in mid-to-late July and would try to pass it through the House floor before legislators leave for their district work-period next month. But Pombo slowed his full-steam-ahead approach yesterday, saying he will not unveil his draft this month.

He attributed the delay to ongoing negotiations with Democrats and an inability to get floor time in the next two weeks, which could have put the pressure on staff to speed up negotiations.

The talks with Democrats show a new effort on Pombo's part to bring the minority party on board following a process critics have characterized as largely Republican and industry-led. Resources Democratic spokeswoman Kristen Bossi said Pombo and ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) are negotiating in "good faith" to see if they can make headway in finding a compromise or working out contentious issues of the bill.

"We are not ruling anything out yet," Bossi said.

Rahall voted against the two ESA bills that came out of the committee last year, one of which would have revamped the act's critical habitat designations and another meant to place more review requirements on scientific information used in the act.

Elements of both of those proposals made it into the committee's draft ESA legislation, which has been received with wide criticism from the environmental community. But Bossi said negotiations between members and staff are ongoing and the draft is changing every day.

"They are definitely working towards working together, and I have no idea how it is going to turn out," Bossi said.

Panel members at odds on invertebrates

Meanwhile, a proposal to include the eastern oyster under protections under ESA was widely criticized yesterday at a hearing on the issue.

House members, scientists and representatives from the fishing industry said that while the Chesapeake Bay's oyster population has struggled, overall oyster numbers show the species thriving.

Part of the problem with listing the species is that there is no way to consider listing a certain population of the oyster. An amendment added to ESA in 1978 bars invertebrates from having separate listings for distinct populations. Vertebrates can have separate listings.

There is legislation pending in the House and Senate that would allow for population segments of the eastern oyster to be treated as separate species. But the bill, H.R. 3111 from Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), got mixed reviews at yesterday's hearing.

Fisheries Subcommittee Chairman Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) said he agreed that invertebrates should be able to have separate listings, like vertebrates.

But Pombo said he was concerned it would open up a whole new realm of listings, with possible petitions for small populations within individual bays.

"It has a great potential for abuse," Pombo said.

 

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