second time around
Alas, alas, but it would seem that yet another piece will spoil in TNS' inbox. They don't sing me love songs, nor do they send flowers anymore, and I'll bet they think of someone else when they edit my stuff, but we'll work it out in the end.
Much of it's my fault, I think. There used to be some romance in writing all day and waiting tables at night when I was in my early twenties, but as I enter my thirtieth year, that dewy-you're-gonna-make-it-after-all sheen is mostly gone; having to write and research and interview people about somewhat complicated topics while I bus back and forth from Boulder or whenever I can sneak away from the office is just lame. And I think the wear on my time is beginning to show up in my copy.
At any rate - here is said piece. Kind of a shame, because it's a little scoopy. Just a little. Think of it as the demo. Very punk-fucking-rawk.
A new report released by a key lawmaker and longtime critic of the Endangered Species Act claims the 32 year-old landmark environmental legislation has failed its mission of recovering endangered habitats and species in danger of extinction, and says it is in need of an overhaul.
Though environmental advocates say the legislator in question, Representative Richard Pombo (R-California), has long had the Endangered Species Act in his crosshairs, a House Resources Committee spokesperson says the Pombo report may pave the way for a bill currently being prepared that will take aim at the Act.
In the May report issued by his office to the House Resources Committee, which has legislative and funding oversight for the Endangered Species Act (ESA), committee chair Pombo says that since its inception in 1973 the law has failed by not developing strict classifications between endangered and merely threatened species; relying too much on subjective or erroneous data; committing too many resources and personnel to court action on behalf of ESA requirements; and overshooting budget limits when implementing the review process.
Because legislative processes are valued over results, the report contends, only 25 of the 1,246 domestic species listed as endangered have reached "recovery achieved" benchmarks. In addition, it cites examples of species that were listed as endangered and later discovered to have substantial populations, which would ultimately "seem to reflect there is insufficient information...other than on an anecdotal basis, regarding the ESA’s effectiveness in conserving or ‘saving’ listed species."
"This is not creative writing, so to speak," said House Resources Committee Republican spokesperson Brian Kennedy in an interview with the New Standard. "It’s a very meticulous, exhaustive review of thousands and thousands of documents.
"This is all federal data," says Kennedy. Pombo had asked to staff to conduct research and find what "stands out."
"It’s not just the chairman making any such decisions" what gets put in, Kennedy says.
In addition to drawing clear lines between threatened and endangered species, the report asks the ESA to change its "priority system" in order to make "more unique animals and plants" the focus of recovery efforts and consider ways to reduce what it labels the "resource consuming nature" of funds to list and recover species and critical habitat.
This is not the first time Rep. Pombo has sat in judgement of the ESA. In 1996 he co-sponsored a bill that would have required the federal government to pay landowners if the identification of an endangered species on their lands affected their property values. His political work has also been celebrated by right-wing "wise-use" groups like the Paragon Foundation and the American Land Rights Association.
The congressman is also listed as a national advisor, along with conservative Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, to the board of the Defenders of Property Rights. The group, formed in the early 1990s to "counterbalance the governmental threat to private property," according to it's website.
Sometimes called the land-rights movement, the wise-use movement champions the interests of big business and unfettered access to land over environmental or community concerns.
Despite his reputation as a hard-boiled critic of environmental legislation and the ESA in particular – between 2003 and 2004, Pombo averaged a rating just over 1 percent from the mainstream environmental group the League of Conservation Voters – two years ago GOP leaders awarded Pombo the chairmanship of the Resources Committee, the Congressional way station for land and environmental issues.
"I think this report is vintage Chairman Pombo," said Susan Holmes, an ESA policy expert with Earthjustice, a non-profit law firm that focuses on environmental issues. "He’s put out a number of reports that mis-characterize science."
“I think this report is designed to put out misinformation about the act,” adds Liz Godfrey, Program Director for the Endangered Species Coalition, a national umbrella group of scientific and citizens’ organizations.
Holmes said Pombo has made "a career of attacking the ESA," and observed, "The fact that he’s the chair means he has the bully pulpit. The fact is that the American public strongly supports the ESA Issuing reports like this are not having any kind of major effect."
"The report’s main contention is that the Endangered Species Act hasn’t recovered enough species," Holmes says. "The fact is that ninety-eight percent of the species listed are still alive today. All scientists recognize there was over a hundred years where some of these species were teetering on the brink. It will take time to effectively recover them."
Since the Act’s inception, only nine species placed on the list have gone extinct.
Holmes says the Pombo report uses guidelines in a controversial piece of legislation, 2004’s Endangered Species Data Quality Act, to weed out flaws in the ESA’s research. But, Holmes says, in the name of broadening the "best science available," the ESA Data Quality Act allows landowners and business interests the same kind of "credit and weight as a trained biologist or ecologist.”
However, Committee spokesperson Kennedy argued that private property concerns are pivotal to the act's future.
"That’s what makes us the most optimistic about the law’s future," Kennedy said. Without the input of private property, he added, "We’ll never get results. They must become a partner with the federal government."
Liz Godfrey says what the ESA requires in order to be more effective is more funding for listing purposes, and her position appears to be supported by the committee’s ranking Democrat as well.
"Efforts to reform the law, without giving it financial support," Representative Nick Rahall of (D-West Virginia) said in a statement, "are tantamount to putting the patient under the knife when all he needs to do is eat better."
According to Kristen Bossi, spokesperson for the Democratic staff on the House Resources Committee, the ESA has a listing budget of $15 million for FY 2005. She noted that the Dems believe "many of the recommendations in the report can be done administratively, without Congressional action amending the ESA."
Indeed, recent findings by the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative and auditing agency, on the ESA's funding priorities and decision-making processes are considerably less sweeping in their recommendations for improving the Act. In April 2005, the GAO recommended that the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – the bureau that administers the ESA – should make periodic reviews of spending allocations to ensure the most endangered animals and habitats are receiving the funding they should. A month later, GAO testimony to the Senate on problems executing ESA prerogatives highlighted instances of creative cooperation between the Fish and Wildlife Service and normally antagonistic federal agencies like the Department of Defense, and recommended government organizations work harder and communicate more openly to ensure more cost-effective and less bureaucratic implementation of the ESA.
Political tussles aside, the Pombo report remains a touchstone for changes to come in the GOP-dominated House. Brian Kennedy says that "as we speak, there is a legislative package being drafted and sent around" which would probably use the report as a springboard.
"You might see some similarities," Kennedy said. "It’ll deal with scientific standards, use of the law, improving the critical habitation processes, and putting objectives and accountability standards into the law."
Partisans for change will more than likely have support from the top of the very agency that administers the law. In 2003, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for FWS, the often controversial George W. Bush appointee Craig Manson, called the ESA "broken," and in recent testimony to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the ESA made criticisms of the legislation that often directly echoed the findings of the Pombo report.
Regardless of what environmentalists may say, says Brian Kennedy, the Pombo report's criticisms of the ESA are meant to be in the legislation's best interests.
"[Pombo] is one of the Endangered Species Act’s more outspoken critics," Kennedy admitted, but he characterized the chairman as "very much a supporter of the law," suggesting that implementation and "unintended consequences" of the Act are the congressman's real concerns.
"In reality," Kennedy proposed, "all of the parties [on either side] support the intent of the law."
I should also mention that while the number of species listed has remained relatively steady - if you don't factor in the Bush years, which has sunk to recent lows - the number of habitats listed have gone down. And where do endangered species live?