- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

The House yesterday passed Republican-backed legislation overhauling the Endangered Species Act that includes a provision requiring the government to compensate landowners whose property is confiscated to protect animals.

“When the law is not working, we have to respond to that, step in, reauthorize the bill, put the emphasis on recovery, protect private property owners,” said House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo, California Republican. “If you take away someone’s private property — if you take away the use of it — you have to pay them for it.”

The vote was 229-193, with 36 Democrats and 193 Republicans in favor, and 158 Democrats, 34 Republicans and one independent opposed.

The Bush administration — in a statement by the Office of Management and Budget — voiced support for the bill, praising “the importance of protecting private property rights.”

But it also said that new requirements related to the creation of recovery plans for endangered species, new statutory deadlines and the new conservation aid program “could result in a significant budgetary impact” and that some language in the bill could generate new litigation.

The Senate has not acted on the measure.

Supporters of the bill said the 1973 act actually has hurt the environment because the presence of an endangered species on private property brings about heavy and even prohibitive restrictions on land use, thus discouraging landowners from reporting a species’ existence.

Rep. Denny Rehberg, Montana Republican, said the law has scared Western landowners so much that they’d rather hide endangered species than report them. He lifted a shovel over his head yesterday and said it is “time to end the joke of shoot, shovel and shut up.”

Rep. Joe Baca, California Democrat, said a hospital in his district had to pay $3 million to move their building several hundred feet to protect an endangered fly.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said.

But many Democrats said the bill would gut a valuable law that has saved many species and create a giveaway to big developers.

“It’s an entitlement program for landowners that want to gut the Endangered Species Act,” said Rep. Tom Udall, New Mexico Democrat.

Both support and opposition for the bill cut across party lines. Many Western lawmakers from land-rich ranching and farming states supported it, while some budget-conscious conservatives opposed it, because it would create a government entitlement by requiring compensation to landowners.

“I don’t want a dangerous precedent of Republicans creating new entitlements,” said Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, an Illinois Republican who voted against the bill.

Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said the new compensation language goes far beyond any current land-compensation rules, by entitling a landowner to the full cost of the land, even if just a small part of it would have to be restricted.

Opponents of the bill also complained of a provision they said would make it easier to approve dangerous pesticide use and one that would create recovery plans for endangered species that they said would have no enforcement mechanism and, thus, essentially be useless.

“They’re paper tigers,” Bart Semcer, a D.C. representative of the Sierra Club, said of the new recovery plans.

There are about 1,300 endangered species listed, and fewer than 20 have recovered and been removed from the list, Mr. Semcer said.

Supporters of the bill said those numbers are proof the law is not working and needs major change. Others said many more species would be extinct right now if the law had not been in place.

“99 percent of species put on this list are not extinct,” said Rep. Norm Dicks, Washington Democrat. “That is not a failure; that’s an enormous success.”

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