- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

The House Resources Committee yesterday approved a bill strictly defining the use of science in enforcing the Endangered Species Act, a move prompted in part by reports in The Washington Times about a fraudulent study on lynx habitat.

Recent fiascoes involving the act including the Canada lynx fraud and federal mismanagement of the Klamath Basin in Oregon underscore the law's excessive power and the need to base decisions on empirical data instead of federal guesswork, sponsors of the legislation said. The measure passed 22-18 and now goes to the House floor for final consideration.

"The American people have the right to expect that federal decisions that change their lives are sound decisions," said Rep. James V. Hansen, Utah Republican and committee chairman. "We have a right to expect that the research behind those decisions is comprehensive, the facts are sound and data field-tested."

Biologists in Washington state falsely labeled hair samples of the threatened lynx as having come from national forests as part of a national habitat study, The Washington Times first reported and government investigations confirmed.

Water was cut off last summer to more than 1,000 farmers in the Klamath Basin of California and Oregon to protect endangered fish species. But a peer review by the National Academy of Science found the reasoning behind the decision was not based on sound science. The water was returned this summer, but the basin's economy suffered and many farmers went bankrupt.

"The Klamath Basin travesty last summer and the Canada lynx fraud that came to light last winter shows us just how far short of that standard we fall," Mr. Hansen said.

Fewer than 3 percent of endangered or threatened species have recovered under the Endangered Species Act 31 out of 1,259 species and have cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Mr. Hansen called it "ham-fisted federal meddling lots of clout, few results."

"I think most people in the West fear the enforcement of the Endangered Species Act more than an IRS audit," he said.

Rep. Richard Pombo, California Republican and chairman of the Western Caucus, said federal agencies consistently use "political science over sound science" when applying the act.

"Situations like shutting off water in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and the fraudulent Canadian lynx surveys are merely the latest examples," Mr. Pombo said. "This legislation would make sure that our environmental policies use sound, peer-reviewed science, and take into account the impact felt by families and businesses outside the Beltway."

The bill sets a higher scientific threshold before a species can be listed as threatened or endangered and must include clear and convincing evidence the species is in peril. Specifically, the measure expands the definition of "best" available science to include field testing, peer reviews and data that have been collected by established standards or protocols.

Democrats opposed the measure, saying the new standards were too high. Rep. Nick Rahall, West Virginia Democrat and ranking member, called it "weird science rather than sound science."

Rep. George Miller, California Democrat, said the bill would create more litigation and delays in protecting species.

"This leads us nowhere to resolve a difficult controversy," Mr. Miller said.

The legislation allows the interior secretary to empanel a peer review board if there is significant disagreement regarding the species' endangerment or if it will cause a significant economic effect. Peer reviewers must meet National Academy of Science standards.

Rep. George Radanovich, California Republican, is a supporter of the bill, but said a major problem remaining is that the act is unevenly applied and selectively enforced.

"For example, the Army Corps of Engineers is dumping tons of sludge into the Potomac River every year directly onto the spawning ground of the endangered short-nose sturgeon. This practice would not be tolerated anywhere else in the country, especially in the West, and it should not be permitted in the nation's capital," Mr. Radanovich said.

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