Endangered Species Act Under Attack in Action on Flood Appropriations

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(05/05/1997) - Later today or on Tuesday in the Senate and on Wednesday in the House, Congress will vote on two extremely dangerous pieces of legislation that would significantly imperil our nation's threatened and endangered species. Defenders of Wildlife and other conservationists warn that in the Emergency Flood Supplemental Appro- priations being debated on the Senate floor today is a rider providing a broad waiver of the Endangered Species Act for a wide variety of flood control activities and "related" facilities. The House will vote on similar ESA legislation on Wednesday.

The following fact sheet describes how the waiver is unnecessary because of flexibility already built into the Endangered Species Act and how it would imperil fish and wildlife. This fact sheet should prove useful to reporters covering floor action this week.

Pending Endangered Species Act Riders On Flood Appropriations Bills House & Senate Legislation:

In the House, Representatives Richard Pombo (R-CA) and Wally Herger (R-CA) have introduced H.R. 478, which would permanently exempt the reconstruction, operation, maintenance or repair of federal or non- federal flood control projects, facilities or structures from the Endangered Species Act_s (ESA) Section 7 consultation requirements and Section 9 "taking" prohibition.

In the Senate, Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) has attached a rider to the Emergency Flood Supplemental Appropriation that would permanently exempt the reconstruction, operation, maintenance or repair of federal or non-federal flood control projects, facilities or structures, authorized by federal, state or local law in effect during 1996 or 1997, from the ESA_s Section 7 consultation requirements and Section 9 _taking_ prohibition. Although worded slightly differently, the effects of both ESA flood control waivers would be identical.

An ESA flood control waiver would be disastrous for threatened and endangered species that depend on aquatic habitats for survival.

Activities that would be exempted from the ESA include: operating hydropower dams; maintaining canals through dredging and use of herbicides; and maintaining rivers and levees through removal of riparian trees and habitat. Virtually every major dam on the Columbia, Snake and Colorado Rivers has flood control as a primary purpose.

These dams have contributed substantially to the decline of many native species of fish. Exempting the operation of hydropower dams from the ESA would destroy current efforts to restore wild populations of chinook, coho and sockeye salmon, Colorado squawfish, razorback sucker and other aquatic dependent species inhabiting their waters. Additional species including the Louisiana black bear, Southwestern Willow flycatcher and piping plover would also be adversely affected by this legislation.

The ESA was not the cause of the recent flood disasters in California.

Opponents of a strong endangered species program have recklessly blamed the recent flooding in California on the ESA and efforts to conserve the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle, a threatened species that sometimes inhabits levees. Flood control experts, however, have soundly dismissed these claims and have repeatedly stated that the flooding was the result of too much water and a degraded and outdated levee system. Thus, the floods had nothing to do with the ESA or any species protected under its provisions.

An ESA flood control waiver is unnecessary and will not protect American people from future flood disasters.

An emergency provision already exists under the ESA that allows repairs on flood control structures to be made in declared disaster areas without prior review. Moreover, the ESA_s Section 7 consultation process is sufficiently flexible to accommodate flood control activities and species conservation without undue delay or hardship. Defenders of Wildlife is unaware of any case where compliance with Section 7 in repairing or maintaining flood control facilities resulted in loss of human life or property.

In fact, Section 7 undoubtedly protects American lives and property by ensuring the conservation of wetland and riparian habitats that help ameliorate the impacts of flooding. An ESA flood control waiver will surely increase the destruction of endangered species habitat and adverse impacts of flooding.

Senate debate on the Craig ESA rider and Emergency Flood Supplemental Appropriation will begin Monday, May 5. A vote on this measure will occur late that night or the following Tuesday morning, May 6.

The House will debate and vote on H.R. 478 Wednesday, May 7. If passed, the measure will likely be attached to the Emergency Flood Supplemental Appropriation on the House floor the following Thursday, May 8.

Defenders of Wildlife and the other members of the Endangered Species Coalition maintain that both H.R. 478 and Sen. Craig's ESA rider are unnecessary to protect American lives and property from future floods, and will severely imperil our nation_s threatened and endangered species.

For more information, contact Michael Senatore at 202-682-9400.

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Contact(s):

Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270

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