Hostility Toward Key Provision of Pombo Endangered Species Reform Bill Shows Environmentalists Aren’t Committed to Public’s “Right to Know”

Washington, D.C. – The environmental movement’s strong opposition to a key provision of Rep. Richard Pombo’s Endangered Species Act reform bill suggests they aren’t serious about protecting the public’s “right to know,” says The National Center for Public Policy Research.  It also suggests environmentalists aren’t serious about saving endangered species, the group says.

“For perhaps the first time, Congress is considering a proposal to stop penalizing private stewardship and thus create an ESA that offers the potential of being good for both people and good for species,” said R.J. Smith, senior fellow at The National Center.

The Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act (TESRA), which was introduced by House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo and others September 19, includes a provision that would require the federal government to inform property owners within 90 days whether their proposed activities would harm species listed under the Endangered Species Act.

But environmental groups such as Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity oppose the provision, arguing it would harm species.

“Environmental groups say they support the public’s ‘right to know,'” said David Ridenour, Vice President of The National Center for Public Policy Research.  “But they apparently don’t think this right should extend to American landowners-they would rather keep them in the dark.”

The 90-day review period could be a means of not only protecting the rights of property owners, but of saving species, according to The National Center.

“So long as ambiguities exist on which activities are illegal and which are legal, which activities would harm species and which would not, property rights and endangered species will both be in jeopardy,” said Peyton Knight, director of the John P. McGovern MD Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs at the National Center.  “A 90-day review period, if formulated correctly, could protect property owners by giving them the final agency decision they need to seek compensation for their losses under the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  But it would also protect species in so doing.”

The Endangered Species Act has failed to save endangered species because its incentives are wrong.

“Today private landowners live in fear of the ESA,” said Ridenour.  “Those who harbor endangered species on their property often find themselves subject to severe land use restrictions.”

To avoid such restrictions and the losses in property values that accompany them, many landowners preemptively sterilize their land to keep rare species away.

The Pombo proposal appears to have been significantly changed from a draft released this summer.  With further refinement, several provisions of the proposal could relieve property owners of some of the ESA’s harsh regulatory burden.

Under one provision, property owners who lose the productive use of their land due to endangered species regulations would receive 100 percent of the fair market value in compensation for their losses.  The provision also notes that any “ambiguities regarding fair market value shall be resolved in favor of the property owner.”

“Given its failure to recover species and its enormous burden on private property owners and regional economies, you would think Congress would want to repeal the ESA,” said Knight.  “Strong protection of private property rights ought to be a minimum standard for the Act.”

The recent bill comes on the heels of a coalition letter widely circulated last week.  The letter was signed by over 80 major national and state public policy organizations voicing their concern that TESRA’s first draft would not have provided meaningful reform to the ESA.

Plans revealed in the early draft to introduce “invasive species” regulations to the ESA have been removed from TESRA.  Knight says this removal was essential.

“Adding invasive species regulations to the ESA would have had a devastating impact on landowners,” he said.  “We’re thankful that this has been removed from TESRA.”

The House Resources Committee has scheduled a hearing on TESRA for Wednesday, September 21, and plans to vote on the bill the following day.

As Congress is currently conducting hearings on eminent domain abuse, this may be a critical week for property rights. 

“Eminent domain abuse is a terrible injustice to be sure,” said Ridenour, “But when government takes your land under eminent domain, you get compensated.  Under the Endangered Species Act, government can take your property without paying you a dime.”

For more information, contact Peyton Knight or Ryan Balis at (202) 507-6398.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.