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Pombo Seeks Bipartisan Bill On Endangered Species Act
7/12/05, CQ by Darren Goode.

House Resources Chairman Pombo is negotiating with Democrats to introduce a rewrite of the Endangered Species Act by the end of this month. He has not planned a markup but usually shies away from marking up bills unless he knows floor action will quickly follow. With a crowded floor schedule this month, the House would have trouble squeezing in debate on endangered species unless a bipartisan agreement is reached. Discussions continue between Pombo and Resources ranking member Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., although there is no indication where the negotiations stand. Their spokesmen declined to comment on the discussions other than to say they are active.

Advocates for private property owners say an overhaul is needed to balance costs associated with protecting endangered species on their land. Nancie Marzulla, president of Defenders of Property Rights, said the House bill should, for example, pay landowners for business losses or the fair market value of their property if an endangered species found on their land impedes their livelihood. "There needs to be some balance introduced in the bill to preserve endangered species but also recognize that there are costs associated with that and some sharing of that cost," Marzulla said.
     

Jaime Clark, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife, said "pretty significant conversations" are continuing, which is "always a good sign." Clark and other environmental group officials strongly criticized draft language that was leaked before the July Fourth recess, which they characterized as rolling back endangered species protections. In particular, environmentalists said the draft would alter the definition of "conservation" and "critical habitats," changing the law's emphasis from conserving habitats to preventing extinction. Pombo's spokesman said those drafts are dated. He said a rewrite is necessary because Fish and Wildlife Service data show a less than 1 percent recovery rate of the roughly 1,300 species listed on the endangered species list since it was enacted in 1973.
     

A quartet of House and Senate Republicans -- including Pombo and Senate Environment and Public Works Fisheries, Wildlife and Water Subcommittee Chairman Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I. -- held a news conference in February pledging to try to enact legislation that was both bipartisan and bicameral. Chafee's subcommittee will hold a hearing on the act Wednesday morning, with witnesses including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Marshall Jones and representatives of environmental groups, home builders, farmers and the timber industry. The hearing will touch upon providing incentives for private landowners to help reshape the act, which Pombo has said is a crucial component. Chafee said at the February news conference that a bipartisan bill debated in 1997 would be a starting point for discussions this year. That legislation included voluntary habitat conservation agreements for landowners that would allow them to sidestep further regulations as species are added to the endangered list.

by Darren Goode

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