Some of Us Support Species, While Others Support the Endangered Species Act

In an article reviewing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s new book, “A Contract With the Earth,” Salon refers to The National Center for Public Policy Research thusly:

Gingrich also inspired the wrath of some conservative think tanks for defending the Endangered Species Act.

The entire National Center document Salon linked to shows there was a lot more at stake than us supposedly attacking the Endangered Species Act, while Newt Gingrich “defended” it.

In fact, we were trying to reform a failed Act, and Gingrich was blocking reform.

Here’s what Salon linked to, from 1996:

House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the single greatest threat to needed reform of environmental laws, announced the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research on June 24. The Speaker’s efforts to stymie meaningful reform of the Endangered Species Act, his support for legislation that would threaten private property and subvert efforts to base legislation on sound science, and his efforts to give the environmental establishment veto power over all environmental legislation mean the Speaker should be the poster boy of the environmental movement — not its villain — says the group.

In recent months, environmental groups have been attempting to use the Speaker’s waning popularity to sink regulatory relief efforts. But Newt Gingrich and the environmental movement are like two peas in a pod. In fact, says the group, Newt Gingrich has staked out environmental positions that are so radical that some of the staunchest environmentalists appear moderate by comparison. For example, Gingrich recently blocked changes to a dolphin protection measure that had been given the green light not only by environmental establishment Republicans like Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), but by environmental groups like Greenpeace. In May he also urged Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-KS) to abandon eforts to pass property rights legislation — a measure supported by over two-thirds of the electorate.

“Given the Speaker’s apparent contempt for private property rights, his penchant for ‘junk science’ and his indifference to the plight of Americans suffering under unreasonable regulations, he ought to be the environmental movement’s poster boy — not its villain,” said David Ridenour, Vice President of The National Center for Public Policy Research. Ironically, at the very time Speaker Gingrich has been villified by the environmental movement, he’s been working to ensure that they have greater say in the nation’s policies. Recently, Gingrich established a House Task Force on the Environment designed to give environmentalists veto power over all environmental legislation. Gingrich appointed Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) to co-chair the Task Force, one of the House of Representatives’ most rabid environmentalists — Democrat or Republican. Boehlert received a 92% score in the League of Conservation Voters’ environmental scorecard — higher than 53% of House Democrats.

Our complaints about then-Speaker Gingrich on environmental issues only began with the the Endangered Species Act. There was a lot more to it than that.

Yet the Endangered Species Act was, and remains, a failure. Nonetheless, as Speaker, Gingrich blocked reform intended to improve the Act.

Here’s what The National Center recommended for Endangered Species Act reform when Gingrich was Speaker, taken from a 1995 press release of The National Center’s Environmental Policy Task Force:

The Endangered Species Act has failed to protect endangered and threatened species while needlessly violating the constitutional rights of individual citizens and costing the nation billions of dollars, according to the Environmental Policy Task Force. The Task Force has just released guidelines for effective Endangered Species Act reform that can protect both species and the rights of the American people.

The guidelines, published in two just-released Talking Points on the Economy cards, “Checklist for Endangered Species Act Reform” and “A Species Protection Plan That Works for Both Wildlife and Humans,” include four general recommendations for effective reform and six specific policy recommendations. Among the Environmental Policy Task Force’s general recommendations is that Congress recognize that the current Endangered Species Act has failed before attempting to reform the law. Some 900 plants and animals are currently listed as either “endangered” or “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act with another 4,000 species either candidates for future listing or in the process of being listed. But in the 21 years the law has been on the books, only 27 species have managed to get off the “endangered” list. Seven of these delistings were due to extinction and the remaining were due to data error, court orders or species improvements completely unrelated to the Endangered Species Act. The Act has been an abysmal failure because it actually encourages the destruction of species habitat.

“The greatest fear of any landowner is that their property will be identified by federal bureaucrats as potential habitat for an endangered species. Federal restrictions on the use of the land that result can render a property worthless,” said David Ridenour, Vice President of The National Center for Public Policy Research and Director of Environmental Policy Task Force. “If landowners are destroying wildlife habitat today, it is only because the current Endangered Species Act has taught them that if they want to keep any of their investment they must extract whatever natural resources their land possesses quickly and make the land as inhospitable to wildlife as possible.”

The fundamental flaws of the Endangered Species Act — including its failure to protect endangered species — means that the Endangered Species Act has outlived its usefulness and must go, according to Environmental Policy Task Force. In its place, the Task Force suggests that a voluntary, incentive-based species protection plan be adopted that includes such incentives as tax breaks and even cash payments to reward individuals for wildlife preservation. Rather than using the government’s coercive powers to force individuals to shoulder the burden for species protection that the country as a whole desires, individuals would be rewarded for responsible stewardship by the public.

“The Endangered Species Act is out of control because the bureaucrats who enforce it don’t have to pay for it. They transfer the cost of protecting endangered species habitat from the public at large to private individuals,” said Congressman John Shadegg (R-AZ), a member of both the House Resource Committee and the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee’s subcommittee on natural resources who will likely play a key role in Endangered Species Act reform. “Congress can restore rationality to the system by making the Fish and Wildlife Service pay for what it demands.”

The Environmental Policy Task Force’s reform guidelines recognize the underlying reasons for the Endangered Species Act’s failure and thus represent a bold departure from past reform efforts. If there is to be meaningful Endangered Species Act reform, there can be no room for sentimental attachments and “good intentions” alone simply won’t do.

“Now is not the time to be reaffirming the failed approach of the past,” said John Shanahan, policy analyst with The Heritage Foundation who helped devise the Task Force’s recommendations. “What is called for is a new vision which for the first time protects people and wildlife alike.”

The Environmental Policy Task Force is a project of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a non-profit, non-partisan educational foundation and resource center based in Washington, D.C. The Task Force was established to find and promote innovative, workable solutions to environmental problems — solutions that minimize the suffering of working Americans while still protecting the environment.

Gingrich opposed what we suggested; supporting instead the status quo.

Did the Gingrich status quo protect species? It’s years later now, so let’s examine what happened:

ESA’s 32 Years of Failure

In the 32 years the ESA has been on the books, just 34 of the nearly 1,300 U.S. species given special protection have made their way off the “endangered” or “threatened” lists. Of this number, nine species are now extinct, 14 appear to have been improperly listed in the first place, and just nine (.6% of all the species listed) have recovered sufficiently to be de-listed. Two species – a plant with white to pale-blue flowers called the Hoover’s Woolly-Star and the yellow perennial, Eggert’s Sunflower – appear to have made their way off the threatened list in part through “recovery” and in part because they were not as threatened as originally believed.

A less than 1% recovery rate isn’t good. Some environmental groups, however, insist that this statistic proves the opposite – that the ESA has been very effective. These organizations note that, since 99% of all the species given special protection have either recovered or are still on the endangered and threatened lists, these species all “still exist” and, therefore, the ESA has worked. The “still exist” standard, however, tells us little about the true status of endangered and threatened species and certainly does not prove the efficacy of the ESA…

… Just 36% of the species on the endangered and threatened lists are currently believed to be stable or improving – meaning that 64% are declining…

-David Ridenour, 2005

So what Gingrich was “defending” was a status quo that leaves 64% of species in decline.

I guess some of us support species, while others support the Endangered Species Act.

Labels: , , , ,

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.