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ESA-Battle Shapes Up PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Tuesday, 18 October 2005
AFF Sentinel Vol.2, #50

Political Situation for ESA Reform

Last issue, we talked about the problems with the Endangered Species Act, the damages to property rights and proposed ESA reforms in HR 3824.

Environmentalists, of course, do not want any changes in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) - unless the changes were to make it tougher on humans. The ESA has given the greens sweeping powers to affect regulation of private property and free access to millions of taxpayer dollars to accomplish their goals of restricting land use. And the property cost has been borne by landowners.

A story in the Contra Costa Times (9/12/05) noted that environmentalists see the requirement for peer-reviewed science as "a ruse to infuse politics or landowner interests into the scientific process." Heaven forbid landowner interests should get in the way of the process.

In another indication that the Senate battle could be tougher, the story quoted an environmentalist group spokesperson before the bill was introduced in the House. She confidently expressed serious doubt that it would ever get out of committee, much less pass in the House. Having successfully beaten back reform for decades, this unaccustomed loss in the House (HR 3824 passed 229-193) will galvanize the green lobby to a huge effort in the Senate.

The greens are especially not happy about the provision of compensation or grants and tax breaks for recovery efforts by landowners. This will flush out the greens who truly want to preserve species from the rest. The rest are those who use species preservation as a cover for their desire to control other people's land, take it out of production and cut off access for recreation, multiple use or improvement for human use. Their goal is really to lock people into big cities and reserve the countryside for wildlife and plants only.

The American Land Rights Association (ALRA) has pointed out that, politically, this could be the best time we'll ever have to achieve significant ESA reform. President Bush is more likely to sign a reform bill than future presidents are. Public frustration with the abuse of private property rights is at an all-time high after the Kelo case, with even members of Congress aware of concerns. Urban members of Congress, including the Congressional Black Caucus, are beginning to take notice and support property rights provisions in ESA reform, the ALRA noted. In mid-term elections next year, as of today's sentiment, Republicans are more likely to lose seats than gain them, although a lot can change in a year's time.

There has been much discussion in the national media over the Democratic Party's allowance of activist and fringe groups to set the party's political agenda. Offending them erodes the base of support, the theory goes. The Wall Street Journal pointed out in an editorial (July1, 2005) that Democrats are not anxious to change a law that "gives so much power to their green-lobby benefactors."

It will also be interesting to see how the evaluation of the economic implications of ESA reform shapes up. Republicans are upset with burgeoning spending. The ESA has already cost the government hundreds of millions, with hundreds more species on the waiting list that would cost millions more. Aid to the Gulf Coast area will cost billions. The greens will most likely scream that ESA compensation or grants to landowners would cost too much. And they can be counted upon to say that hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast residents need help more than private-property owners do.

Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM) has already attacked the compensation provision.

"It's an entitlement program for landowners who want to gut the Endangered Species Act," he was quoted in a Colorado Springs Gazette editorial (10/02/05). The editorial countered that, "It's not an ?entitlement program' if we pay people when the feds regulate them out of the value of the land - it's just the fair, right and constitutionally correct thing to do," referring to the Fifth Amendment.

Tibor Machan, in an opinion piece for Freedom Communications also in the Colorado Springs Gazette (10/1/05), indicates Udall is not the only Congressman with the attitude that compensation would be "a massive new entitlement program." Machan added that apparently, "Letting folks keep what they own - or requiring government to pay for it when they confiscate it - is now to be construed as a gift from the state." He argues that such a stance implies the extremists' belief that the government, not the property holder, actually owned the land in the first place.

How far out will they go? If calling compensation an "entitlement" isn't bold enough, Machan gives us a glimpse of even more radical views. Some are positing the idea that land doesn't really belong to the government either. The theory, he said, is that when a person's property is confiscated, nothing is taken from them because it belonged to the endangered species in the first place. How far fetched is this theory? Machan brought my attention to a book that is now in its 25th edition - as a textbook, no less - that argues that not only wildlife, but also trees and other "natural objects" should have legal standing.

Question: would Ted Kennedy, even on his boldest, bleariest day, go that far to please his activist base?

The ESA has cost millions to private landowners and taxpayers. It has been an abysmal failure in preserving species. But Lincoln Chaffee, (R-RI), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Water is in no hurry to do anything. Along with Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and four other senators, he has asked the Keystone Center, a Colorado think tank, to develop a report on whether the ESA has been a failure so far and make recommendations on how to fix it. He doesn't want to take up Pombo's legislation until the Keystone Center finishes sometime next spring, according to the Gazette.

We've seen the list of people who have agreed to participate in Keystone's study. Only one farm organization is listed and no cattlemen's group. There are quite a number of wildlife organizations represented along with some timber companies and a homebuilder. Several others appear to be attorneys to whom, of course, the ESA has been a fairy godmother.

For farmers and ranchers who own or lease the dominant portion of the land where 90 percent of the listed species live, to have a solitary general ag member and no cattle representative on a list of 23 so far, is both an insult and a likely harbinger of evil things to come. Some people have still not gotten the message that all wildlife species - endangered or not - need American cattlemen as allies, not enemies.

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