WASHINGTON - September 30 - Congress took the first step today toward gutting the 30-year old Endangered Species Act, America's safety net for fish and wildlife at the edge of extinction, voting 229 to 193 for legislation crafted by House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA). The bill eliminates habitat protection measures for fish and wildlife facing extinction, creates an exemption for the approval of potentially dangerous pesticides and establishes a new entitlement program for developers and polluters. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), implementation of the Pombo legislation will cost the U.S. taxpayer $2.7 billion over the next five years.
"If Congressman Pombo's bill becomes law, animals such as the Peninsular bighorn sheep and wild salmon will be guaranteed less room to roam and be less likely to recover," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director. "American children would be left a future with more strip malls than salmon runs and more freeways than fox dens."
"We look now to the Senate to stave off similar attempts to rewrite America's conservation priorities and surrender to special interests," said Pope.
The legislation eliminates habitat conservation measures on tens of millions of acres of land around the country, the "critical habitat" of species facing extinction, and prevents such conservation activities in the future. Analysis of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data shows that species with critical habitat are more likely to be increasing in number and heading towards recovery than species without by a 2:1 margin.
The legislation also creates a new entitlement program by requiring the federal government to pay developers, the oil industry and polluters to avoid destroying the habitat of publicly owned fish and wildlife. According to the CBO, the giveaways for developers and bureaucracy that would become entrenched if Pombo's bill becomes law would double the cost of conserving fish and wildlife listed under the Endangered Species Act. Those costs would climb to $2.7 billion over the next five years.
"Since when does paying people not to violate the law constitute sound policy?" asked Pope. "Pombo's bill would not only gut the Endangered Species Act, it risks bankrupting existing wildlife conservation programs that aid landowners and rural businesses and places an undue burden on taxpayers."
The Endangered Species Act enjoys a proven track record of success. Ninety-nine percent of all the fish, plants and wildlife ever conserved under the Endangered Species Act have been saved from becoming lost forever, including the bald eagle and the grizzly bear.
This attempt to rewrite the landmark law is just the latest attempt by Rep. Pombo to undermine America's bedrock environmental protections. In addition to his assault on the Endangered Species Act, he's also working to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act, and pushing controversial measures to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and off America's coasts, and sell off National Parks to private interests.