- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The Texas comptroller has terminated an oil and gas industry-funded organization responsible for overseeing the protection of a rare lizard in West Texas.

State records show the Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation failed to perform habitat restoration or monitor drillers and other landowners to ensure protections for the dunes sagebrush lizard.

The Austin American-Statesman (http://atxne.ws/1SlCdoJ ) reports that State Comptroller Glenn Hegar terminated the foundation’s contract last month after determining that the foundation failed to do repair work on several sites hit by surface disturbances over approximately 20 acres between 2013 and 2014.

The petroleum industry created the foundation four years ago to protect the lizard instead of listing the species as endangered, which could’ve severely limited oil production in the area.

At the time, industry and state officials led by former comptroller Susan Combs praised the arrangement, called the Texas Conservation Plan, as a compromise that would protect both the Texas economy and the lizards without burdensome federal regulations.

Conservationists said placing the species’ well-being in the hands of a private organization was risky. A lawsuit two organization brought forth to stop the plan was unsuccessful.

“One of biggest problems of the lizard plan is that it hard for any member of the public to know who’s participating in the plan and what conservation measures are being undertaken, in a way that can make them confident of the protection of the species,” said Melinda Taylor, director of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law and Business at the University of Texas.

Lauren Willis, a spokeswoman for Hegar, said there wasn’t evidence that the foundation’s poor work harmed the lizard. She said that the fact that the comptroller’s office had found and amended the recent lapses shows that state regulators are aggressively monitoring the plan.

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

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