- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Obama administration wants us to believe that after last year’s shellacking, it will really, really focus on jobs, but the announcements and new “pro-business” staff members are just window dressing. While no one is looking, it’s continuing its job-killing policies.

On Dec. 14, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that the dunes sagebrush lizard “faces immediate and significant threats due to oil and gas activities and herbicide treatments.” As a result, it proposes that the lizard be listed as “endangered” - under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) - which starts the clock for a 60-day public comment period. Hoping no one would notice, the FWS announced the proposal during the throes of the holiday season. We the public need to take notice.

Ranchers, farmers and oil and gas producers who will be impacted by the potential listing have been working with the FWS on a brand-new program called a Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA). Some already had signed a contract agreeing to conservation measures above and beyond what is currently required - and more were about to sign. The CCA was seen as an effective way to avoid more government regulation by voluntarily preserving the species. In addition to protecting the lizard, the ranchers, farmers and oil and gas producers committed to reclaiming abandoned oil wells and paying additional fees that would go into special funds for habitat restoration. The CCA was thought to be a pilot project for industry-agency cooperation. However, that cooperation went out the window with the surprise land-grab action on Dec. 14. The lizard and man’s land use could have co-existed. But this is not about the critter. It is about control - as most endangered-species issues are.

The dunes sagebrush lizard lives in the Permian Basin’s prime ranching, farming and oil-and-gas country - encompassing southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. Both private landowners and industries are threatened because working the land might “take” a lizard. Instead jobs are taken. If the lizard is listed, ranching, farming and drilling will be severely restricted in the region. Funds will not be available for protection or restoration. A line will be drawn in the sand, and the lizard will be left as it is.

If the lizard receives the ESA listing, oil and gas development will be virtually stopped for those who have not yet signed the CCA, and no new exploration will be allowed - which will mean even higher prices at the pump. As we’ve seen with the temporary closing of the Alaska pipeline, the less supply we have, the higher the price. If the economy really is important, wouldn’t Washington want to keep prices low for the consumer and to help recovery?

An ESA listing also would block potential wind farms and solar installations. The news release states, “Habitat loss and fragmentation” is caused by the “creation of roads and pads, pipelines and transmission lines.” Transmission lines are needed to get the renewable energy from “out there” where the land is to “in here” where the people are.

The endangered species we should all be concerned about is the American worker. The economy of this entire portion of the country is dependent on ranching, farming and the extractive industries. Take them away, and you take jobs away. The region will become the victim of policy-induced poverty.

The proposed listing of the dunes sagebrush lizard and the lesser prairie chicken - expected to be proposed next - are premieres for job-killing regulatory action being taken nationwide. The lizard may be located in a small part of the country that few know or care about, but listing the lesser prairie chicken would impact five states: New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado - all important ranching, farming and oil-and-gas lands. The impact of both would be felt throughout America.

Where will it end? Is the goal to stop all new wealth creation?

The public must take notice. We must demand that the economic impact be considered before regulators shut down all mining and farming. The listing of the Northern spotted owl has killed logging and created ghost towns in the Northwest - and the owls are still in decline after 20 years of protection. The ESA protection of the delta smelt created unemployment of more than 40 percent in the San Joaquin Valley - until two congressmen’s votes for health care turned the water back on. (Suddenly the fish weren’t so important.)

We are in an economic war. If America is to win, we must put pressure on Washington to listen. At the very least, it must extend the public comment period for the dunes sagebrush lizard - and then we must comment: Don’t lock up more lands.

Marita Noon is the executive director of Energy Makes America Great, the advocacy arm of the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy.