Conservationists Say Kempthorne ESA Bill Falls Short

(09/16/1997) - Washington, D.C. - Conservation leaders say they cannot support legislation to reauthorize the Endangered Species Act expected to be introduced today by Sen. Dirk Kempthorne (R- ID) because it is sorely lacking in provisions needed to ensure that species recover. The leaders met with Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt yesterday and with some sponsors of the bill today.

Secretary Babbitt told the environmental leaders that he will praise the Senate drafters of the legislation for providing a bill that can "serve as a threshold from which debate can begin and go onward and upward." He said the Clinton White House is not ready to take any position on the legislation, and that the environmental community "should not view it as a final product."

On September 3, fourteen leaders representing a coalition of more than 240 conservation, environmental, religious, medical, fisheries, hunters, anglers, scientific and other organizations announced at a Capitol Hill press conference that they consider legislation introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) to be the standard against which all endangered species legislation will be measured. Upon receiving details about the Kempthorne bill for the first time yesterday, the reaction was overwhelming that the Senate bill does not meet basic requirements.

Brock Evans, director of the Endangered Species Coalition, says, "Rep. Miller's Endangered Species Recovery Act - H.R. 2351 - is still our benchmark for endangered species legislation because it is the only current endangered species proposal that makes recovery of imperilled species the standard for endangered species protection."

Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife, adds that, "The Kempthorne bill falls far short of the mark. It fails to meet the standards set in H.R. 2351. The most glaring fault of this Senate bill is its rejection of recovery of endangered species as the over-riding goal. The Kempthorne bill reduces private landowner responsibility for protecting imperilled wildlife, whereas Miller's Endangered Species Recovery Act (ESRA) provides a win-win situation for wildlife and landowners."

"While the sponsors of the Senate bill hail it as a consensus or compromise, the only compromise is the way in which it undermines protections for endangered and threatened species," says Gene Karpinski, Executive Director of U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, agrees, noting that "A well-financed lobby of the biggest culprits behind habitat destruction and species extinction -- big timber, mining, developers, and corporate agribusiness -- have called for a major weakening of the Endangered Species Act. Senators supporting the Kempthorne bill introduced today, some of whom have had been longstanding defenders of our endangered wildlife, have chosen to run, not fight."

Pope observes, "As the saying goes, what sounds too good to be true usually is. Being touted as a gleaming example of compromise and bipartisanship, in fact this bill was crafted behind closed doors, and is set to be rammed through the Senate. Instead of improving our nation's premier species protection law, this bill will cut off the fragile limb upon which threatened and endangered species are perched."

Among the standards that the Kempthorne bill fails to meet, environmentalists include that it fails to design habitat conservation plans that work for wildlife as well as landowners, does not promote fairness and citizen participation in wildlife conservation, and fails to provide incentives for landowners to conserve wildlife.

The Wilderness Society points out that it also fails to increase the accountability of federal agencies to achieve recovery. William H. Meadows, the Society's President, emphasizes: "There's no way we'll ever protect America's wildlife if we don't protect them in the national parks and other public lands. This bill utterly fails this test. It's an obituary for endangered species."

In conclusion, Heather Weiner, policy analyst for the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, says, "The Endangered Species Act is the safety net of all environmental laws and the Kempthorne bill takes a giant pair of scissors to it."