After his road-show hearings to orchestrate opposition to the Endangered Species Act, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Tracy) has delivered the goods. HR 3824, introduced in the waning days of this year’s Congressional session, is not just another Republican attempt to tinker with the ESA. This time, Pombo went for the nuclear option.
“The bill removes all protection for habitat and any mandate to move toward recovery,” says Brian Nowicki, Endangered Species Policy Coordinator with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It deletes the critical habitat section of the act and makes all recovery plans voluntary.” Endangered species that now have critical habitat would lose it; those listed but without designated critical habitat would never get it. Protected species could be de-listed on a state-by-state basis. The Pombo measure increases payoffs to land owners, green-lights destructive projects, gives the Secretary of the Interior final say on what constitutes “best science,” and exempts pesticides from environmental review.
On September 29, the bill passed the House of Representatives 220—193, largely along party lines, although 36 Democrats voted for it and 34 Republicans voted against it. Opponents hope to stop the bill in the Senate.
What species would be affected? In Northern California alone, the roster of potential victims includes the Antioch Dunes evening primrose, yellow larkspur, Bay checkerspot butterfly, coho and Chinook salmon, California red-legged frog, Alameda whipsnake, western snowy plover, marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl, and Steller sea lion—all currently with federal endangered or threatened status and with critical habitat either designated or in litigation. That’s not even considering animals and plants still in the listing pipeline, like the fisher, greater sage grouse, Yosemite toad, and Siskiyou mariposa lily.
Kieran Suckling, CBD’s Policy Director, sums up: “Pombo’s bill would reverse thirty years of progress. It would rip the heart out of America’s most important wildlife law.”