CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
| September 19, 2005
POMBO BILL WOULD RIP THE HEART OUT OF THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT
Kieran Suckling, Center for Biological Diversity: (520) 275-5960
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Resources Chairman Richard Pombo, long a foe on the Endangered Species Act, introduced a bill today that would significantly weaken protections for our nation’s fish, plants, wildlife, and the places they call home. Mr. Pombo plans to hold a vote in Committee on Thursday, September 22nd and the legislation could be on the floor of the House as early as the week of September 26th.
"Pombo's bill would reverse thirty years of progress," said Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity, "it would rip the heart out of America’s most important wildlife law."
"This bill would put corporations, developers, and other powerful special interests in the position of deciding whether endangered species live or die," said Susan Holmes, senior legislative representative for Earthjustice. "The Endangered Species Act has saved hundreds of species from extinction, and this bill would unravel that safety net."
"The American public supports the Endangered Species Act and wants it to remain strong.," said Liz Godfrey, Program Director, Endangered Species Coalition. "It is critically important that Members of Congress recognize that Mr. Pombo is attempting to mask his true intentions with soft sounding words like 'update,' 'enhance,' and 'modernize,' however, his true intentions are to dismantle the protections of one of our nation’s strongest conservation laws."
“This legislation runs counter to the purpose of the Endangered Species Act by removing protections and opening loopholes that allow big special interests to cast aside one of our country’s most successful environmental laws,” said Justin Tatham, Preservation Advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “Simply put, this legislation will eliminate the safety net that has saved the bald eagle, grizzly bear, and many other species from extinction.”
The Endangered Species Act is America's premier conservation law. It has a near perfect success rate in preventing the extinction of our nation's most imperiled plants and animals. Without it, the Condor, Bald Eagle, Wolf, Grizzly Bear, Florida Panther, Manatee and hundreds of other species would be extinct today. The Act is also moving species toward full recovery at a rapid rate. Though most of the 1,300 endangered species have been protected for less than half the time identified by federal biologists as necessary to recover them, nearly 70% are are stable or improving. The Key Deer, American Crocodile, Guadalupe Fur Seal, Southern Sea Otter, Brown Pelican, Mississippi Sandhill Crane, Kirtland's Warbler, Whooping Crane, California Least Tern, and Least Bell's Vireo are just a few of the hundreds of endangered species whose populations number have grown dramatically since being placed on the endangered species list.
The unifying theme of Pombo's bill is reducing oversight and protections so that species will never recover.
- Eliminates critical habitat: Species with designated critical habitat are recovering twice as fast as species without it. Pombo's bill completely eliminates critical habitat. "Critical habitat is one of the most important and successful tools in the conservation toolbox," said Suckling, "if we don't protect the places species call home, they will never recover."
- Politicizes scientific decisions: The Endangered Species Act requires that all decisions be made on basis of the best available scientific information—what constitutes the best science is left up to the scientific community. Pombo's bill allows a political appointee, the Secretary of Interior, to define the best science and to unilaterally overturn, with no public or scientific review, any decision she deems to not fit her definition. "Science should be determined by scientists, not political appointees," said Tatham
- Eliminates independent oversight: The Endangered Species Act requires that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and/or NOAA Fisheries independently review federal actions which may harm endangered species. Pombo's bill allows the Secretary of Interior, a political appointee, to exempt individual projects or entire classes of projects from independent oversight. "Pombo's bill takes unbiased, professional wildlife and fisheries experts out of the equation," said Godfrey.
- Weakens recovery efforts: The Endangered Species Act requires that federal recovery plans be implemented by federal agencies, and that species be protected until they are fully recovered. Pombo's bill allows federal agencies to ignore recovery plans, and requires that species be delisted within individual states even though the species as whole is tumbling toward extinction. "Pombo's bill will fragment recovery efforts, throwing the Endangered Species Act's holistic approach out the window," said Holmes, "how will species recover if we don't implement recovery plans?"
- Weakens jeopardy standard: Taking direct aim at this common sense requirement, Pombo's bill changes the definition of "jeopardy" to allow actions which immediately harm a species recovery potential based on speculation that it will recovery in the "long-term" i.e. 50 or even 100 years.
- Allows projects that harm species: The Endangered Species Act is a "look before you leap" law. It requires that all actions which may push species toward extinction be reviewed before the are implemented. Pombo's bill reverses the order. It requires that destructive projects go forward with no review unless federal agencies object within 90-days.
- Bankrupts the Endangered Species Act by requiring the federal government to pay landowners to not violate the law. This not only would have a tremendous negative impact on the federal budget, it would set a precedent to require the government to pay developers for any profits lost to environmental protections, and it would reward developers who plan the maximum and most potentially profitable projects for the most ecologically important habitat. In short, it begs developers to plan projects that allow them to extort payment from the government. “The conservation community supports reasonable incentives for landowners who take proactive actions that significantly contribute to the recovery of endangered and threatened species," said Godfrey.