Pombo Bill to Gut Endangered Species Act Clears First Hurdle

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a version of Resources Committee Chair Dick Pombo’s revision of the Endangered Species Act, which calls for major changes to the nation’s premiere environmental law. Pombo, a California Republican, says the existing law is too cumbersome in the courts and too costly for landowners and developers. His new bill contains provisions calling for the onus of species protection to fall to voluntary efforts by property owners and local authorities around the country, purportedly freeing up the federal government from oversight and the courts from red tape.

western snowy plover©USFWS

Pombo’s bill would get rid of habitat protection for wildlife where development is already limited, would call on political appointees to make some scientific determinations, and would require the federal government to compensate landowners whose development interests are prevented in the name of species protection.

“In our bill we protect the small property owners,” Pombo told reporters. “It was a compromise, a reasonable way to protect endangered species, to protect the habitat which they need to recover.”

Opponents of the bill worry about the implications. Congressman Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, said that the bill “changes the Endangered Species Act in a radical, radical way” and referred to it as “an entitlement program for landowners who want to gut the Endangered Species Act.”

Udall and many fellow Democrats—as well as many environmentalists—hope that opposition in the more moderate Senate might squash the bill’s chances of getting signed into law. The Senate’s Environmental and Public Works Sub-committee Chair, Rhode Island Republican Lincoln Chafee, said he has serious qualms about elements of Pombo’s bill. And beyond Chafee’s reservations, Congressional analysts aren’t sure the Republican Senators can generate enough support for the bill to prevent it from being filibustered at that point. But then again, that’s what we all thought about drilling in ANWR, too.

In related news, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week an administrative decision to shrink stretches of California, Oregon and Washington beaches formerly designated as critical habitat for the western snowy plover—a shorebird species federally listed as threatened. Officials said that the benefits of maintaining the current number of beach closures for the species’ recovery has been too costly to businesses up and down the West Coast, and that the species should be able to recover without such extensive habitat protections.

Biologists attribute the decline of the species, which now numbers about 2,600 birds on the West Coast, to loss of nesting habitat, human disturbance, encroachment of European beach grass on nesting grounds, and predation. Federal officials estimated that local businesses would lose as much as $645 million over the next two decades without rolling back some of the habitat protections, with the popular Southern California beach communities taking the biggest hits. The move only serves to highlight the alignment between administration priorities and the changes proposed in Pombo’s bill.

Source: www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9531112 and www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/news/112781907519950.xml&coll=7