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Update [2005-9-29 9:35:41 by jalefkowit]: Title updated to reflect the fact that tomorrow is now today...

If you care about protecting endangered species, you should mark tomorrow on your calendar. Because tomorrow is the day the House is voting on HR 3824 -- and if that bill becomes law, you can kiss the protections provided by the Endangered Species Act goodbye.

Details and what you can do about it on the flip.

HR 3824 is titled the "Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005". That's a misleading title, though. A better name for it would be the "Congressman Richard Pombo Hates the Endangered Species Act Act of 2005."

See, Rep. Pombo (R-CA-11) is the chairman of the Resources Committee, which oversees much of American conservation policy. And it's a bit of an understatement to say that he doesn't like the Endangered Species Act. To Pombo, the ESA is a failure -- and it gets in the way of developers and other special interests.

So last week, he came gunning for it. He introduced this bill into his committee, then proceeded to ram it through -- the committee voted on it a week after it was introduced -- and now he's got it on the calendar to be voted by the full House tomorrow.

So why should you care? Here's why. The Pombo bill has some seriously bad provisions in it for endangered species protection. To wit, it:

  • Politicizes the use of science in decision making. Currently, the government has to follow the best available scientific and commercial data when making decisions about protecting endangered species. Under the Pombo bill, the power to determine what the "best available" science is will be given to a political appointee -- the Secretary of the Interior. Science should be done by scientists, not politicians.
  • Repeals the protection of critical habitat. One thing we know about helping populations of endangered species recover is that you have to ensure they have a safe habitat -- not just enough to support the numbers that are there today, but enough to support a healthy, recovered population. The ESA, therefore, protects not only endangered species but also the "critical habitat" they need to recover. Pombo's bill straight up repeals the critical habitat provision of the ESA, so species could be "protected" and still have no place to live and breed. Bad idea.

  • Eliminates the need to "look before you leap". Currently, if you want to do a project that could impact an endangered species, you have to consult with the government first to ensure that your project won't cause damage to that species. In other words, you have to look before you leap. Pombo's bill lets developers get around this by empowering the Secretary of the Interior to designate (unspecified) "alternative consultation procedures" for any type of project he or she wishes. So the Secretary can essentially set aside the ESA at will and replace it with any review process they wish -- including ones where the "review" would barely merit the name.
  • Pays Developers to Follow the Law. Let's say you're a developer, and it's determined that your project will impact an endangered species, so the government tells you to set aside 20 acres as undeveloped habitat. Currently, the developer bears the cost of this. Under the Pombo Bill, though, the government not only pays the developer for the land, but it goes a step further and pays him or her for any profits they forego by not developing on that land. And who determines what profits they are foregoing? Why, the developer, of course!

I could go on, but I won't. Suffice it to say that for those of us that believe that the ESA is one of the true successes of American conservation law, the Pombo bill is Very Bad indeed. And tomorrow the House will either pass it or smack it down.

Help Smack It Down

Endangered species could sure use your help today. The best thing you can do to help is call your Representative and tell them to vote "No" on HR 3824 tomorrow, and to support continuing strong protections for endangered species. If you don't know who your Representative is, we have an online form on our Oceana action center where you can look that up.

Once you know who your Rep is, just call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and have them put you through to his or her office so you can leave your message.

Sea turtles, humpback whales, and other endangered species need our protection to recover. We should be standing up for them, not rolling over for wealthy developers and special interests. If you agree with that, call your Representative today and help out!

... and the nation's op-ed pages agree:

LA Times:

"GIVEN HIS REPUTATION as the biggest critic in Congress of the Endangered Species Act, it's hardly surprising that Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy) would introduce legislation to weaken the nation's efforts to preserve rare plants and animals. What is surprising, and unacceptable, is that the House so far appears willing to rush it toward a vote without meaningful debate or analysis."

San Francisco Chronicle:

Pombo hatchets the heart of the present rules. Scientific evidence for declaring a species at risk of extinction is dumbed down via a change that puts decision-making on biological evidence in the hands of the politically appointed secretary of the interior, not a panel of experts.

Pombo's measure also takes away a requirement that habitat be set aside to preserve the dwindling wildlife, even if it disrupts development, timber cuts or cattle grazing. In its place are weaker, voluntary controls on such activities. It's a gift to landowners.

Sarasota Herald Tribune:

Florida's congressional delegation must oppose the attempt by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., to "modernize" the Endangered Species Act. A bill that Pombo pushed through the House Resources Committee, which he chairs, would emasculate the act -- not improve it.

Newark Star-Ledger:

The Pombo bill would weaken protections for habitat, the land and water areas that are crucial for species' survival. Developers could speed ahead with construction, no matter what the wildlife consequences, if the federal Fish and Wildlife Service fails to answer certain scientific questions within 90 days. This deadline is deliberately impossible.

Philadelphia Inquirer:

[L]legislation proposed by Rep. Richard Pombo (R., Calif.), who says he wants to bring the act out of the age of "leisure suits, mood rings and pet rocks," isn't the answer. Initially, Pombo planned to phase out protections altogether by 2015. His latest rewrite, though tamer, will benefit Homo sapiens more than any plant or animal. The House is expected to vote tomorrow on his sweeping revisions.

Pombo has been itching to rewrite the Endangered Species Act since 1996, when he coauthored a book called This Land is Our Land: How to End the War on Private Property. It contends that the act and other environmental laws interfere with property rights. But that rarely happens.

Pombo's fix overcompensates in favor of people by eliminating key habitat, science and oversight provisions that have saved plants and animals for three decades.

Who's Against It?

Shoulda posted this originally, sorry -- here's a link to the letter signed by 78 (!!!) conservation organizations against the Pombo bill. Naturally, we at Oceana are among them...

Originally posted to jalefkowit on Wed Sep 28, 2005 at 11:19 AM PDT.

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