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ESAblawg is an educational effort by Keith W. Rizzardi. Correspondence with this site does not create a lawyer-client relationship. Photos or links may be copyrighted (but used with permission, or as fair use). ESA blawg is published with a Creative Commons License.

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florida gators... never threatened!

If you ain't a Gator, you should be! Alligators (and endangered crocs) are important indicator species atop their food chains, with sensitivity to pollution and pesticides akin to humans. See ESA blawg. Gator blood could be our pharmaceutical future, too. See ESA musing.

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Follow the truth.

"This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it." -- Thomas Jefferson to William Roscoe, December 27, 1820.

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Thanks, Kevin.

KEVIN S. PETTITT helped found this blawg. A D.C.-based IT consultant specializing in Lotus Notes & Domino, he also maintains Lotus Guru blog.

« Sorry about the extended absence... back soon! | Main| Extinction rider averted, for now. »

Another appropriations rider marks another policy failure for the Endangered Species Act.

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First, they came for the wolf.  Then they came for the dunes sagebrush lizard.  Now they've come for everything else. Legislators are rewriting the Endangered Species Act, one budget bill at a time.

A few months ago, Congress delisted the wolf in an appropriations rider. Both ESA blawg and the New York Times warned that Pandora's box had been opened.  Recent Congressional actions proved those warnings correct.

In an appropriations rider, Congressman Mike Simpson, who Chairs the House Interior and Environment Subcommittee, proposed to cease funding for all new species listing activity.  While the wolf delisting and the dunes sagebrush lizard listing may or may not be scientifically defensible, this sweeping bill has nothing to do with science.  Instead, it is a potentially deadly blow to the scientific integrity of the ESA.  Regardless of the status of a species, or the scientific basis for a new endangered listing, no money can be spent on species listing.  The money is gone, so the species will be gone, too.

Once again, the finger pointing will follow.  Some people will blame the budget and the economy. Others will accuse the Republicans of raw power politics.  A few more will blame overzealous environmentalists who abused the ESA as a land use litigation tool.  All the accusations hold degrees of truth.  According to Congressman Jim Moran (D-Va), who unsuccessfully sought to amend the rider, Simpson does not necessarily oppose new listings, but the rider intended to provide an incentive for environmentalists and other pro-conservation stakeholders to agree to a reauthorization of the law.  "The only way I can think of to do it is to force the issue," Simpson said. "This is a shot across the bow...  The ESA has become so contentious, so political and so litigious that it has become a policy failure."

Defunding the ESA listing process in a budget bill, like the wolf delisting, is the lazy, thoughtless way out.  But ESA blawg is the "thoughtful" blog discussing the Endangered Species Act.  Recognizing that Congressional inaction on our budget leaves little choice other than triage -- choices between which species to fund, or not to fund -- ESA blawg will now commit environmental heresy, and suggest three controversial reforms of the ESA.  

     1.  Congress could create a process that enables the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the NOAA Fisheries, to set the order of species priorities, based on Congressionally established criteria, rather than litigating every listing petition that is filed by a concerned group. See ESA blawg (discussing "bulk petitions").  

     2. Congress could reform the citizen suit provisions of the ESA, along with perverse attorney's fee-shifting provisions that create incentives to sue the government. See ESA blawg (discussing fees litigation) andESA blawg (discussing settlement disincentives).  

     3. Finally, if Congress is going to allow species to go extinct, it could be more honest about that choice, and streamline the process.  Existing listed species could be delisted, by the God Squad or some other process, if progress is inadequate.  Honest delisting decisions would then allow the agencies to divert their limited funds from a hopeless species to other species that might survive.  See ESA blawg (discussing triage).
 
Admittedly, compared to the ideals of the ESA, these are horrible ideas.  Many people will absolutely reject them, and understandably so.  But these suggestions are certainly better than our current path.  America needs honest and transparent reform of the Endangered Species Act to rebuild Noah's ark.  Budget bills are not the way to debate and rewrite one of our nation's most powerful environmental laws.