Talking Points on the Environment #37: Grist for Environmentalists’ Mill: GOP May Push Industry-Backed ESA Bill

Environmentalists who accuse Republicans of conspiring with big industry to protect corporate profits at the expense of the environment may soon have evidence to back up that claim. The Senate may soon vote on the Endangered Species Recovery Act (S. 1180), an industry-backed Endangered Species Act reauthorization bill sponsored by Senator Dirk Kempthorne that would help neither rare species nor small property owners. The bill would:

  • Perpetuate Incentives for Habitat Destruction. Rare species are at risk because property owners view them as liabilities rather than assets. The Endangered Species Recovery Act (ESRA) would do nothing to change this as it fails to require compensation of property owners whose land is regulated out from under them. Under the ESA, federal authorities have sweeping powers to regulate land they deem suitable habitat for rare species. Because such regulation can mean huge uncompensated property value losses, land owners have the incentive to make their land inhospitable to species. Destruction of species and habitat can result.

  • Place Restrictions on Public Right to Know. The ESRA would exempt biological information collected by the government from Freedom of Information Act requirements, allowing federal officials to conceal this data from the public and preventing the public from challenging the data’s validity.

  • Give Big Industry Unfair Advantages Over Small Landowners. Timber giants like Georgia Pacific and International Paper are pushing for the ESRA because they stand to gain from it financially. The bill would codify Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs), extra-legal arrangements large timber companies have negotiated with federal officials that are currently vulnerable to legal challenge. Although HCPs require timber companies to restrict their land use to federally-approved activities, they also permit them to engage in commercial activities that might otherwise be prohibited under the ESA. The costs of negotiating an HCP is so high that only the largest timber companies can afford them, giving these firms a distinct advantage over small firms.

  • Divert Resources Away From Imperiled Species. The ESRA would extend government protection to species not listed, diverting limited public and private resources away from listed species, by including unlisted species in recovery plans, multiple species conservation plans and other plans.

  • Do Little to Ensure Scientifically-Based Decision-Making. The ESRA would do little to improve the science on which species listings are based. It would, for example, allow publication of ESA listing proposals before the proposals have been peer-reviewed. The bill also would offer insufficient safeguards against conflicts of interest by scientific peer reviewers.

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