“Nonsense” ESA Bill Introduced in the House

Date: January 10, 2000

Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and Rep. Pombo (R-CA) recently introduced H.R. 3160, the “Common Sense Protections for Endangered Species Act”, that is being called the “Nonsense Protections Act.” The bill has 32 cosponsors, and may gain legislative momentum.

Winter committee hearings on the bill are expected, but we predict that the pro-environmental “Endangered Species Recovery Act” (H.R. 960) introduced by Rep. Miller (D-CA) with 90 cosponsors, will not receive a fair hearing at the same time. A side-by-side comparison shows the dramatic differences between the two bills.

H.R. 3160 essentially repeals the meaningful sections of the Endangered Species Act. The low points include:

LISTING: The Young/Pombo bill would allow Governors to block additions to the endangered species list. Under the Young/Pombo bill, Maine Governor Angus King could make his wish come true and tie up the government’s recent decision to finally list Atlantic Salmon. And for species endemic to a state, such as a plant in Hawaii that is found no where else, federal protection will no longer apply if the state has some semblance of a state ESA – even if it’s like most state ESAs, unfunded and unenforced.

CRITICAL HABITAT: TheYoung/Pombo bill eliminates critical habitat designation. The bill adopts some of the language found in the Endangered Species Recovery Act (HR 960) – such as making critical habitat more of the recovery planning process, but then it substitutes the mandatory “shall” with the voluntary “may.” Under current law, Babbitt’s Fish and Wildlife Service balks at the mandatory critical habitat designation already (there are only court-ordered critical habitat designations). Can you imagine what a voluntary program would look like?

FEDERAL PROJECTS: The Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Forest Service could find many ways to duck endangered species protections under the Young/Pombo bill. By allowing agency core “missions” (such as damming rivers, or maximizing forest harvest) to trump the ESA, the bill would make most mitigation programs extinct. And the Fish and Wildlife Service would be hog-tied because it could only step in if it could prove that significant numbers of animals or plants would be lost – more of an extinction goal than a recovery one. If that wasn’t enough, biologists would be hampered by strict requirements to keep economic costs to a minimum. With additional loopholes for “routine maintenance and operations” as well as speculative emergencies, the Young/Pombo bill would let federal projects run amok.

DEVELOPMENT PERMITS: Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) cover millions of acres of endangered species habitat in this country. HCPs authorize development and other habitat destruction and the Young/Pombo bill would make getting them a lot easier. Public review would be discouraged, mitigation requirements would be whatever the developer or timber company thinks is reasonable, and the permits would be locked in – with no changes under ANY circumstances, including no adaptive management – for unlimited amounts of time.

RECOVERY PLANNING: Recovery Plans are supposed to set out the fastest, most reliable plan to achieve endangered species recovery. But not under the Young/Pombo bill. The least cost is the bottom line, and a group of economists, wise use lawyers, and property owners with direct economic conflicts would make up the recovery planning team. Recovery plans could be replaced by “functional equivalents” (such as giant HCPs) or could be taken over by hostile state governors.

APPROPRIATIONS: To cap it all off, the bill authorizes dismal funding levels. Right now the agencies receive about $200 million each year for endangered species protection – far below what is needed to implement the current Act. The Young/Pombo bill would authorize less money to cover more endangered species and more bureaucratic requirements. On second thought — since the bill repeals most of the law’s oars and leaves nothing but a ghost ship behind, maybe this is the only part of the Nonsense Protections Act that makes any sense.


PLEASE contact your Representative and Senators through personal meetings, letters, e-mail, or phone calls. Ask them to oppose the Young/Pombo Nonsense Act and to cosponsor the Endangered Species Recovery Act. Contact information for Representatives and Senators.

You can phone any member of Congress by calling the U.S. Capital Switchboard at (202) 224-3121