Conservation Leaders From Congress, Interior & Citizen Groups Decry Bill To 'Repeal' Endangered Species Act

(10/11/1995) - Flanked by a bald eagle, conservation leaders warned at a Capitol Hill press conference today that legislation scheduled for markup tomorrow in the House Resources Committee would virtually repeal the Endangered Species Act. Representatives George Miller (D- CA) and Bruce Vento (D-MN), Fish and Wildlife Service Director Mollie Beattie, and Skylar the bald eagle joined Defenders of Wildlife and other members of the Endangered Species Coalition to detail the flaws in H.R. 2275. One of the controversial bill's sponsors, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), held a press conference immediately after the conservationists' briefing at which he attacked environmentalists.

The bill, H.R. 2275, has been introduced by House Resources Committee Chairman Don Young (R-AK) and Pombo. Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife and co-host of the Endangered Species Coalition press conference along with Rep. Vento, said that, "If the bill scheduled for markup had been passed instead of the Endangered Species Act, the bald eagle and many other species probably would not be with us today. Essentially the Young-Pombo bill repeals the ESA, makes protection on private lands voluntary, and even prohibits protection of endangered species on public lands where it would interfere with the profits of special interests."

Pombo was chosen by Young to chair "task force" meetings on the ESA in lieu of regular hearings with full public participation by the more moderate subcommittee chairman Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ). Rep. Miller, former committee chairman, said at the press conference that despite bipartisan support for endangered species, "With the help of the Republican leadership, the special interests come in the dark of night to rip away the guts of our environmental laws."

Many of the provisions of the Young-Pombo bill are taken from legislation introduced in the Senate by Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA), who has admitted that industry wrote the provisions. Mary Wells of U.S. PIRG revealed at the conservationists' briefing that the cosponsors of the Young-Pombo bill received twice the average contribution as other House members from an anti-ESA industry coalition. Rep. Vento, who has circulated a letter signed by more than 130 Members of Congress expressing a commitment to maintaining a strong ESA in the 104th Congress, said that, "Hopefully the public will not be misled by the window dressing title of the Endangered Species legislation introduced by Representatives Young and Pombo. This extreme measure, `The Endangered Species Conservation and Management Act,' would make the Endangered Species Act a hollow promise and abandon endangered and threatened fauna and flora to the not-so-tender mercies of political appointees and special interests."

Despite the concern of Vento and other committee members, Rep. Young is going straight to full committee markup of the bill, skipping Saxton's subcommittee. Jim Jontz, director of the Endangered Species Coalition and a former Member of Congress, said that, "Don Young has overreached. The more representatives learn about the Young-Pombo bill, the less they like it. The bill is so extreme that it may sink under its own weight."

Heather Weiner, Legislative Counsel of Defenders of Wildlife, noted that at the Pombo press conference, "It is obvious that Congressman Pombo doesn't understand the content of his own bill and thus has resorted to personal attacks on the environmental community instead of offering productive solutions to ESA issues." Weiner, moderator of today's conservationist briefing, said Pombo is prone to exaggeration and she passed out a list of Pombo's "Fairy Shrimp Tales" and "Top 10 Lies about the Endangered Species Act."

Defenders of Wildlife Counsel Bill Snape noted that the Young- Pombo bill "continues the Stealth Attack on the Environment that has characterized this Congress. The bill refutes the findings of the National Academy of Sciences and completely overturns the recent Supreme Court ruling by making habitat protection on private land voluntary and limiting areas on public lands where the Act would apply. Under the guise of setting up biodiversity reserves, Young and Pombo weaken public land protection. They know this is unpopular so they want to hide it."

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Mollie Beattie summarized the dangers of the Young-Pombo bill with hope: "I hope that a few years from now, when there is an even broader appreciation of what scientists now predict - that 'preservation of natural habitat' and the ecosystems on which human life depends have been even more widely recognized as a primary ecological and therefore human problem of the coming century, that we can look back on this bill as a reminder . . . of human self-delusion in the face of science, the laws of nature and the tremendous threat to human health, safety, and economics posed by the loss of biodiversity and our human life support system."

Other speakers at the press briefing came from Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Wildlife Center of Virginia, Center for Marine Conservation, World Wildlife Fund, and Humane Society of the United States.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270