80 Groups Say Endangered Species Act Reforms Should Protect Property Rights and Species, Not Harm Both
WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 -- Today, the National Center for Public Policy Research joined more than 80 major national and state public policy organizations in a coalition letter expressing disappointment with Republican efforts to reauthorize the Endangered Species Act. Specifically, the letter charges Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Resources Committee, with putting forth a weak reform effort that falls woefully short of fixing the ESA or preventing the ESA from abusing landowners.
“Property owners have long suffered under the Endangered Species Act’s onerous restrictions and outright disdain for property rights,” said National Center Vice President David Ridenour, “And from what we’ve seen, Rep. Pombo’s bill would ensure that this suffering continues largely unchecked.”
The letter was signed by a broad coalition of influential national policy organizations, including: Coalitions for America, Eagle Forum, the American Conservative Union, the National Taxpayers Union, Liberty Matters, and the Christian Coalition.
State policy think-tanks, including the Pacific Research Institute, the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research, and the Maine Public Policy Institute signed the letter as well.
A draft of the legislation was leaked several months ago. The bill may be introduced as early as this week.
Based on this draft, Ridenour concludes the new ESA bill “would actually do more harm than good.” For one, he says, Rep. Pombo’s proposal to give the federal government the power to regulate so- called “invasive species” under the Act would be a disaster.
“Invasive species regulations are like steroids to the Endangered Species Act,” said Ridenour. “What Congress took out of baseball, it should not put into the ESA.”
Under an Executive Order signed by President Bill Clinton, invasive species are defined as “any species, including seeds, eggs, spores, or other biological material capable of propagating that species, that is not native to that ecosystem.”
Federal regulation of “invasive species” as proposed in the draft bill would open the door to federal regulation of nearly every square inch of land in America.
Another problem, according to the coalition letter, is “a weak acknowledgement of property rights” that only compensates landowners if ESA regulation devalues their property by 50 percent or more.
“Especially on the heels of the dreadful Kelo v. City of New London ruling, Americans want the essential right to 100 percent of their property, not a federal law that encourages the theft of half their land,” said Peyton Knight, director of the National Center’s John P. McGovern Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs. “Property rights advocates can’t stomach any more betrayal.”
The coalition letter notes that the 50 percent provision would not obey the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states: “Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” The Endangered Species Act has been an overwhelming failure in its 30-year existence -- running roughshod over landowners while failing to recover endangered and threatened species. Until federal species recovery efforts fully recognize Americans’ constitutional right to private property, they will continue to fail to protect species. Ridenour notes that grassroots property rights advocates largely have been ignored during effort to reauthorize the Act.
“If Chairman Pombo’s goal is to strengthen the ESA without providing any real regulatory relief to Americans suffering under the Act, then I say, ’mission accomplished.’”
Property rights advocates have vowed to fight any reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act that fails to protect private property rights and further empowers federal regulators to take even more property. Knight expressed bewilderment at the drive to strengthen the Endangered Species Act, given the current political landscape. “We have a Republican president, a Republican Congress, and a Republican House Resources Chairman who says he cares about property rights, yet we’re faced with an ESA reauthorization bill that would hammer landowners in loyal red states,” he said.
Knight says he hopes that the coalition letter serves as a wake-up call to Rep. Pombo.
“We expect a lot more from someone like Chairman Pombo,” he said. “That’s what makes this current debacle so extremely disappointing.”
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