Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

Pombo’s Hypocrisy Highlighted at Bay Delta Hearing
Pombo Extinction Bill Significant Threat to Recovery of Delta Fisheries

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 27, 2006

CONTACTS: Brent Plater, Center for Biological Diversity, 415-572-6989
Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, 520-907-1533

Stockton, Calif. – Conservationists and fishermen condemned the hypocrisy of Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) during a Congressional committee oversight hearing today investigating the cause of declining fish populations in the San Francisco Bay-San Joaquin Delta. Pombo, Chairman of the House Committee on Resources, has waged a war against environmental protections and ignored over 10 years of scientific studies showing that the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem is in decline. Pombo recently authored a Congressional bill that would gut the Endangered Species Act and make it more difficult to recover and restore the Bay-Delta ecosystem and its fisheries.

“Representative Pombo long ago abdicated his responsibility to aid restoration of the Bay-Delta,” said Brent Plater, Bay Area Director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Congressman has been a national champion for polluting industries while locally our fisheries floundered.”

In 1996, the same year Rep. Pombo authored and published “This Land is Our Land,” a book explaining his extreme anti-environmental views, federal and state biologists created an ambitious recovery plan for declining Bay-Delta fisheries, noting that successful recovery efforts would require improved enforcement of environmental protections. In his book, Rep. Pombo stated that the environmental protections the Bay-Delta fisheries need to recover are borrowed from “fascists, anarchists, globalists, and communists.”

There is mounting evidence that massive state and federal water withdrawals from the Delta are contributing to the collapse of fisheries populations and the plankton food web. In the past few years, populations of Bay-Delta fish species such as delta smelt, striped bass, threadfin shad, longfin smelt, white sturgeon and green sturgeon have plummeted to some of the lowest levels ever recorded. In September 2005—mere weeks before scientists announced Bay-Delta fisheries were declining precipitously—Rep. Pombo, wielding his position as Chairman of the House Resources Committee, acted on his extreme views by passing H.R. 3824, a bill that systematically removes every proven recovery tool found in the Endangered Species Act.

The Endangered Species Act protects the Bay-Delta’s most imperiled species. Originally created in 1973, it has saved over 99 percent of the species it protects from extinction including the bald eagle, delta smelt, California sea otter and California red-legged frog. It has also lived up to its mission to “protect the ecosystems upon which endangered species depend” by preserving essential wildlife habitat in California.

Rep. Pombo’s recently passed H.R. 3824 removes every proven recovery tool from the Endangered Species Act, including protections scientists have determined are essential to the recovery of Delta fisheries. Rep. Pombo’s bill:

  • Eliminates Habitat Protection. It eliminates all existing and future critical habitat protections—including existing protections for the delta smelt, a Bay-Delta fish that is at record-low levels. Critical habitat is one of the most successful provisions of the Endangered Species Act: species with critical habitat are recovering twice as fast as species without it. “Scientists have stated for over 10 years that we need to increase protection for the delta smelt’s critical aquatic and wetland habitats, not eliminate it,” said Plater. “Rep. Pombo’s extinction bill eliminates the most important, most scientifically-based, most successful approach to protecting the Bay-Delta ecosystem.”
  • Exempts Pesticides from Environmental Review. In an astounding blow to the checks-and-balances that have protected the Bay-Delta from toxic contamination, Rep. Pombo’s extinction bill exempts the production and spraying of pesticides from review under the Endangered Species Act. “Federal and state biologists believe that toxic pesticides and herbicides are a likely factor in the decline of Bay-Delta fisheries,” said Plater. “But Rep. Pombo’s extinction bill takes away resource managers’ most important tool for assessing and modifying toxic contamination that impacts imperiled species.”
  • Politicizes Science. Rep. Pombo’s extinction bill replaces the Endangered Species Act’s focus on using only the “best available science” and instead allows the Secretary of Interior, a political appointee, to define what science should and should not be used. “Rep. Pombo’s extinction bill makes a mockery of today’s hearing: if the bill becomes law, the Bay-Delta’s best scientists will be shown the door and decision-making will be turned over to political appointees and the industries that fund their boss’s campaign coffers,” said Plater.

Peter Galvin, Conservation Director of the Center for Biological Diversity, stated “It’s nice that Congressman Pombo has time between his industry and government sponsored vacation junkets to pay some attention to the alarming decline of the Bay-Delta ecosystem. Unfortunately, the Congressman has a long history of using his office and these Congressional field hearings to muzzle and terrorize officials whose jobs it is to protect fisheries, water quality and wildlife. We sincerely hope that today’s hearing will not be a repeat of the Congressman’s deplorable antics.”

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