The Empty Cowboy Hat rides again

Submitted: Jul 17, 2006

Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, is grabbing headlines again after former Rep. Pete McCloskey knocked a few of his teeth out in the primary. If he can keep his fight up to gut the Endangered Species Act until November, the public may never know a Democrat named McNerney is running against him.

That's the first thing: show them how powerful you are. Opposition? What opposition? Even if the Senate is skeptical about the wisdom of gutting the ESA, you go, cowboy, you are Tracy's one and only Buffalo Slayer.

The second thing is to attract that Big Money by championing the cause of big landowners and big developers, whose plans to make really Big Money are just being tied in knots by all the red tape at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which enforces the ESA. Or so goes the Pombo script.

Paint the Service as the enemy, the mean, nay-saying government, standing in the way of private property rights and Big Money. Don't look to close at how much the Service panders to landowners and developers and how weak its will to enforce and its powers of enforcement actually are. But, before you judge, walk a mile with Pombo breathing fire and brimstone down your neck every time you try to do your job, threatening to cut your budget more than he and the Bush administration have already cut it. It's combat biology.

Blame the critical habitat designation sections in the ESA and describe them as no-growth nature reserves where only endangered species are allowed to walk. Don't accurately describe the conditions under which the Service gets involved with projects in a critical habitat designation. And never talk about federal water, developers and areas designated critical habitat. You could be stepping in something there.

Measure everything by whatever money figures you can dredge up. On the critical habitat designation for the Red-Legged Frog: "The estimated cost in San Luis Obispo County alone is $165 million." Whose estimated cost? Is it costing the county or some landowners $165 million and year to preserve the frog? More than a year? Or is what Pombo saying is that the local Building Industry Association and realtors came up with that number? Or, is he saying someone in his office or the Bush administration came up with that number, which would be shot down by a federal judge as was done in a critical habitat lawsuit over vernal pools several years ago -- shot down as exaggerated, phony, as a lie?

"When conflict is unavoidable, TESRA (Pombo's gut-the-ESA bill) requires compensation for private property owners' loss of property or the use thereof." Even Bush is worried about that because it is as open-ended as Bush's commitment to Halliburton of Iraq.

Earth Justice, analyzed this provision of TESRA:

Representative Richard Pombo’s (R-CA) Endangered Species Act bill (HR 3824) will be voted on this week in the House of Representatives. However, instead of focusing on recovering endangered species, it would force taxpayers to pay unlimited amounts for any business losses from speculative development schemes that corporations never had the right to pursue in the first place. It would give companies and developers the ability to extort taxpayers’ money simply for complying with the law.

If H.R. 3824 passes: Taxpayers would be required to pay.H.R. 3824 would force taxpayer to pay “the fair market value of the forgone use of the affected portion of the property including business losses” for any use that would not comply with the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA) Section 9 prohibition on actions that would illegally kill or otherwise “take” a protected species. Corporations would receive windfall payments even if they paid little, or nothing, for the property, and even if they can make massive profits on permissible remaining uses of the property.

Rep. Pombo’s bill would create a new unlimited corporate welfare entitlement.

It would require taxpayers to break the budget to provide “aid” to corporate or other property owners who have not lost any property rights. H.R. 3824 would require payments for ANY reduction in value from ANY forgone use of ANY affected portion of property. In each of these respects, it is contrary to every court ruling on “takings” of property and the views of every member of the Supreme Court. Thus, it would require taxpayers to write checks to companies that have not lost any rights.

It would create perverse incentives to propose environmentally destructive activities solely to be denied permission and thus be entitled to “aid.”

Payments would overwhelmingly go to big corporations.Reflecting the highly concentrated nature of land ownership, Professor C. Ford Runge testified about the 1995-96 “takings” bills that 2.1 million large farm operators and timber operators “own 1,035 million acres of land. That means that 2.65 percent of all private land owners own 78 percent of all private land.”

H.R. 3824 is not necessary.The ESA ensures that agencies respect private property interests through separate “4(d) rules” for threatened species; reasonable and prudent measures; reasonable and prudent alternatives; and incidental take permits and Habitat Conservation Plans. The bill unjustifiably singles out the ESA and sets a dangerous precedent. When the 1995 ESA and Clean Water Act takings bill reached the Senate, it was expanded to cover all federal laws, before it was stopped by a bi-partisan filibuster threat.

This bill attempts to revive the takings approach that has repeatedly failed to pass Congress in the face of strong bi-partisan opposition, including taxpayer groups; state and local government organizations; and a wide range of national religious denominations; as well as labor, conservation and other groups.

For more information contact: Earthjustice Senior Legislative Counsel Glenn Sugameli (202) 667-4500 gsugameli@earthjustice.org -- www.earthjustice.org/library/policy_factsheets/takings_factsheet.pdf

Pombo and the extremists in the White House worry about how much litigation is costing the Fish and Wildlife Service. How much more would this open ended subsidy cost?

So, when you are next considering buying a new breed bull or a John Deere, invest your money in a piece of Pombo instead.

Pombo lines up some figures on how much it is costing us to bring back endangered species to healthy populations. The whole bill amounts to less than a day in Iraq.

"Like many aspects of the ESA, critical habitat is driven by litigation, providing an endless supply of slam-dunk lawsuits to activist groups that can bag taxpayer dollars in the form of attorney's fees."

What is the point of having a wholly developer owned congressman if the public can still sue on the act to defend its environment against the developers? It threatens the economic order, in which the public is often suing against development to defend its own health and safety as well as the right of endangered species to exist and evolve. The way the political system is now going, as just one more lucrative field of investment if you have that kind of money, the public can never gain access or have meaningful dialogue with congressmen of either party so completely bought and sold as
these are today. The implication that activist groups are composed of nothing but lawyers collecting their fees for these easy lawsuits is yet another Pombo lie.

What Pombo and his allies, like Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, want to do is deny the public the right to sue at all so that in the future open space and wildlife habitat will be gobbled up in a quiet, orderly way as the result of legal, out-of-sight deals between developers, congressmen and whatever is left of environmental regulatory agencies. It amounts to simply lopping off the public and the judiciary from the discussion. This is one of the hallmarks of investment-driven legislature: efficiency, privacy, no judicial review, and total control for the investors who bought the bill fair and square.

If you like Pombo as champion of a few very rich developers and landowners, you'll love him next year as the champion of the same investors when he becomes chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, charged with drawing up a new Farm Bill.

In an interview with the Sacramento Bee today, Pombo expressed his objections to the ESA:

Q: What are your problems with the Endangered Species Act now?

A: I didn't like the way it treated private property owners. It was heavy-handed. It didn't really matter what the facts were on the ground or what the science was. It was decisions being driven by somebody in Washington who had never even been to the area being regulated.

I felt it was wrong for them to come in and tell someone who had been farming for a hundred years that you can no longer farm it any more because it was endangered species habitat.

But the more I got into it, I began to realize that the act didn't work. At some point, the agency began to focus on land-use control and forgot all about recovering species.

This was driven by lawsuits. (Environmentalists) would file a lawsuit on the designation of critical habitat, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would lose. As more of a defensive posture, they began focusing on designation of critical habitat and they forgot all about recovering species and whether or not the habitat that was being protected actually did anything.

First, the Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a large office in Sacramento staffed with biologists, who do as much science as they have funding for. They have been in the regulated area. It is the developers who send their lawyers to Washington to lobby for exemptions from enforcement for illegal takes. We think it highly unlikely, for example, that the staffer for an Oregon US Senator, who wrote the Service on behalf of a Los Banos developer, had inspected the land under discussion anymore than the recipient of the letter at the Service's Washington headquarters. But a letter from a senator can have more impact on a federal bureaucracy than a biological study.

While we have never personally heard of a century-old farmer being told he could not longer farm, we have seen several thousand acres in Merced County, pasture land that is prime habitat for 15 endangered species, deep-ripped by developers to clear up any ESA issues, to plant almonds for a few years to hold it for real estate development. But, 100 years ago, farmers didn't use the wildlife-destroying pesticides they use today, yet still, somehow, managed to eke out a precarious and healthy existence, which is why Pombo knows a 100-year-old farmer being crushed by the ESA.

The constant effort of developer-owned legislators and congressmen to sever the
relationship between habitat and species ought to raise the simple question in the public mind: what does an animal or plant species do when it has no habitat? The answer is that it goes extinct, as the San Joaquin Kit Fox, among others, is doing at the moment. If Pombo wanted to actually know, scientifically, what good critical habitat designations were doing for the recovery of endangered species, he would have to quit blocking adequate funding for the Service to conduct the surveys necessary to determine that, as he consistently blocked adequate funding for the CalFed process on the Delta. At the present level of funding, surveys on species are a melange of state and federal studies, salted
with developer-consultant studies. Baselines become acts of business negotiations instead of the results of science. Developers have fought environmental law and regulation relentlessly and inventively, particularly in California, since its inception. The result, from a public point of view, is a scientific swamp full of predators.

Investors in politicians like Pombo and Cardoza are betting that there are not enough people left in California anymore who can remember the abundance of wildlife -- the bird flocks of the San Joaquin Valley, for example -- that used to thrive here. Why should the public sacrifice its memory and its desire to see those flocks building up again to the bottom line of a handful of extremely wealthy developers and their bought congressmen? Why shouldn't we want our environment to become cleaner and healthier for birds and humans and all species, rather than become one more California slurb? While we are asking questions, why wouldn't the public want cleaner and healthier politics in California, something natives also remember.

The velocity of global warming and its impact on the Sierra snowpack, as reported recently by the state Department of Water Resources, may be Nature's way of saying, "Whoa, thar, big cowboy."

Bill Hatch
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Contra Costa Times
Endangered species need real recovery now...Rep. Richard Pombo
http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctimes/news/columnists/perspective/15051396.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp

CALIFORNIA, as much or more than any other state, has witnessed first-hand the Endangered Species Act's shortcomings. Despite the state's obvious stake in ESA, little has been done to move reform legislation through the U.S. Senate. Californians, with untold resources tied up due to ESA, deserve real reform and should demand action from their elected officials. To work, the ESA must refocus on recovery instead of conflict. For TESRA to work, the Senate must get the job done. Endangered species, and Californians, deserve better. Ignoring the need to improve the ESA is a dereliction of Congressional duty and an unrecorded vote to perpetuate a failing conservation program.
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Sacramento Bee
Pombo lays out case against species act...David Whitney, Bee Washington Bureau
http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/v-print/story/14278671p-15087482c.html

Endangered Species Act...The House approved Pombo's sweeping rewrite of the 1973 law...in September. In the Senate, Pombo's bill was greeted even by Republicans with a measure of skepticism. The Bush administration, while supporting it, is worried about the cost of Pombo's plan to compensate landowners for restrictions on their property use. In an interview, Pombo discussed why he thinks the act signed into law by President Nixon needs
an overhaul and how his bill would work.
Q: What are your problems with the Endangered Species Act now?
A: I didn't like the way it treated private property owners...
Q: There have been some reports, peer reviewed, that have shown the act has been working, that species on the list 13 or more years are by and large stable or improving.
A: That's not accurate...
Q: So you don't think the act is working at all?
A: I wouldn't say it hasn't worked at all. But it hasn't worked the way it should...
Q: How would your bill change it?
A: It completely changes the focus. (By) getting away from the current process of protecting habitat...
Q: The environmentalists claim your bill is just a wholesale elimination of essential habitat. \
A: The funny part is the idea for doing away with critical habitat and going with
recovery habitat actually came from environmental groups...
Q: How would that work?
A: This is where science comes in...
Q: It's late in the congressional session. Are you resigned to this carrying over until next session?
A: Not yet...
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Counterpunch.com
June 7, 2003

Bush's War on Endangered Species
Going Critical
By JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

The Bush administration has given up on the art of pretense. There are no more illusions about its predatory attitude toward the environment. No more airy talk about how financial incentives and market forces can protect ecosystems. No more soft rhetoric about how the invisible hand of capitalism has a green thumb.

Now it's down to brass tacks. The Bush administration is steadily unshackling every restraint on the corporations that seek to plunder what is left of the public domain.

For decades, the last obstacle to the wholesale looting of American forests, deserts, mountains and rivers has been the Endangered Species Act, one of the noblest laws ever to emerge from congress. Of course, the ESA has been battered before. Indeed, Al Gore, as a young congressman, led one of the first fights against the law in order to build the Tellico Dam despite the considered opinion of scientists that it would eradicate the snail darter. Reagan and the mad James Watt did also violence to the law. Bush Sr. bruised it as well in the bitter battles over the northern spotted owl. Despite green credentials, Clinton and Bruce Babbitt tried to render the law meaningless, by simply deciding not to
enforce its provisions and by routinely handing out exemptions to favored corporations.

But the Bush administration, under the guidance of Interior Secretary Gale Norton, has taken a different approach: a direct assault on the law seeking to make it as extinct as the Ivory-billed woodpecker. Give them points for brutal honesty.

On May 28, Gale Norton announced that the Interior Department was suspending any new designations of critical habitat for endangered and threatened species. The reason?

Poverty. The Interior Department, Norton sighed, is simply out of money for that kind of work and they've no plans to ask Congress for a supplemental appropriation.

It's no wonder they are running short given the amount of money the agency is pouring out to prepare oil leases in Alaska and Wyoming and mining claims in Idaho and Nevada.

Critical habitat represents exactly what it sounds like: the last refuge of species
hurtling toward extinction, the bare bones of their living quarters. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service must designate critical habitat for each species under the law at the time that they are listed. It is one of three cornerstones to the hall, the other two being the listing itself and the development of recovery plans.

The law hasn't worked that way for many years. Of the 1,250 species listed as threatened or endangered, the Fish and Wildlife Service has only designated critical habitat for about 400 of them. Despite what many mainstream environmentalists are saying, the attempt to unravel critical habitat has a bipartisan history and has even included the unseemly connivance of some environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund.

During the Clinton era, Bruce Babbitt capped the amount of money the agency could spend preparing critical habitat designations. Babbitt tried to wrap this noxious move in the benign rhetoric that was his calling card. He piously suggesting that designating the habitat wasn't as important as getting the species listed. Of course, it's the habitat designation that puts the brakes on timber sales and other intrusions into the listed species' homeground.

Babbitt's monkeywrenching was not viewed kindly by the federal courts, which issued order after order compelling the Department of the Interior to move forward with the designations. Those court orders piled up for eight years with little follow through.

Babbitt could get away with this legal intransigent because the DC environmental crowd was too timid to hold his feet to the fire.

Now the Bush administration has inherited the languishing court orders and a raft of new suits, many filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson and the Alliance of the Wild Rockies in Missoula, two of the most creative and tireless environmental groups in the country. The Bush administration is not embarrassed about losing one lawsuit after another on this issue for the simple reason that it wants to engineer a legal train wreck scenario that it hopes will destroy the law once and for all.

The scheme to pull the plug on critical habitat began soon after Bush took office.

Beginning in 2001, Gale Norton ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to begin inserting disclaimers about critical habitat into all federal notices and press releases regarding endangered species. The disclaimer proclaims boldly: "Designation of critical habitat provides little additional protection to species."

This is simply a bogus claim as proved by the Fish and Wildlife Service's own data. In its last report to congress, the agency admitted that species with habitat designations are 13 percent more likely to have stable populations and 11 percent more likely to be heading toward recovery than species without critical habitat designations.

Then in May of 2002 the Bush administration, at the behest of the home construction industry and big agriculture, moved to rescind critical habitat designations and protections for 19 species of salmon and steelhead in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The move covered fish in more than 150 different watersheds, clearing the way for timber sales, construction and water diversions.

The next move the administration made against critical habitat was to begin redrawing the existing habitat maps to exclude areas highly prized by oil and timber companies. Since 2001, the Bush administration has reduced the land area contained within critical habitat by more than 50 percent with no credible scientific basis to support the shrinkage.

The administration had practical motives. In coastal California, Norton ordered the BLM to speed up new oil and gas leases in roadless lands on the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara, home to more than 20 endangered species, including the condor and steelhead trout. Where once the burden lay with the oil companies to prove that their operations would not harm these species, now it is reversed. Environmentalists must both prove that the listed species are present in the area and that they will be harmed by the drilling.

Next on the hit list was the coastal California gnatcatcher, whose protected habitat had already been shrunk to landfills and Interstate cloverleaves under Babbitt. Carrying water for California homebuilders, Norton lifted protections for the bird on 500,000 acres of habitat in order to "reevaluate its economic analysis" from the habitat protection plan released in 2000. The administration also moved to rescind protections for the tiny San Diego fairy shrimp.

If you want a case study on how endangered species flounder without benefit of critical habitat designations look no further than the mighty grizzly bear of the northern Rockies.

The grizzly was listed as a threatened species in 1975, but it has never had its critical habitat designated because a 1978 amendment to the Endangered Species Act granted the Fish and Wildlife Service the discretion to avoid making the designation for species listed prior to that year. The provision was inserted in the law by members of the Wyoming congressional delegation at the request of the mining and timber industry.

Grizzly populations are lower now than they were when the bear was listed. Tens of thousands of acres of grizzly habitat have been destroyed by clearcutting, roads and mines. Within the next 10 years, grizzly experts predict that key habitat linkages between isolated bear populations will be effective destroyed, dooming the species to extinction across much of its range. Even biologists in the Bush administration now admit that grizzly population in the Cabinet-Yaak Mountains on the Idaho/Montana border warrants being upgraded from threatened to endangered.

Now the terrible of fate of the grizzly is about to be visited upon hundreds of other species thanks to the Bush administration's latest maneuver. "When opponents of the Endangered Species Act seek to gut the critical habitat provision, they are gut-shooting endangered species, in direct offense to national public policy and our system of majority rule," says Mike Bader, a grizzly specialist with the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. "In their zeal to fatten corporate profits, they seek to bankrupt our national heritage."
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Counterpunch.com
July 13, 2006

$11 Million Every Hour
What the Iraq War is Costing Us
By Rep. JOHN P. MURTHA

We are spending $8 billion a month in Iraq. that equates to 2 billion dollars a week, or 267 million dollars a day, or 11 million dollars an hour.

Attached are some comparisons between what we are spending in Iraq as we "stay the course" indefinitely and what those funds could be used for instead.

I've been fighting for our military to get out of Iraq because I'm concerned about the loss of our troops and the future of our military and also because I believe they have accomplished their mission there and the Iraqis must resolve their internal conflict themselves. However, I also wanted to demonstrate what these expenses mean to domestic policy in the United States and give you an idea of just some of the things that what we could accomplish with this amount of money.

NATIONAL SECURITY

$33.1 billion/yr Department of Homeland Security FY 07 budget (4 months in Iraq)

$10 billion (1-time) Equipping commercial airliners with defenses against shoulder fired missiles (5 weeks in Iraq)

$8.6 billion/7 years Shortage of international aid needed to rebuild Afghanistan (one month in Iraq)

$5.2 billion (1-time) estimated need for capital improvements to secure public transportation system (trains, subways, buses)

(3 weeks in Iraq)

$1.5 billion/year Radiation detectors needed at all US ports (rejected due to cost) (5 days in Iraq)

$1.4 billion/ year Double the COPS (community police grants) program (5 days in Iraq)

$800 million/year public transportation personnel training and technical support (72 hours in Iraq)

$700 million/year 100% screening of all air cargo - rejected because of (2 days in Iraq) cost (1/4 of domestic shipping and 1/2 of international shipping is done on passenger planes)

$350 million (1-time) Make emergency radio systems interoperable (1.2 days in Iraq) (recommended after 9/11 but hasn't happened yet)

$500 million/year Double the firefighters grant program (2 days in Iraq)

$94 million/year Restore cuts to cities hit on 9/11 in Homeland Security budget (8-1/2 hours in Iraq)

HEALTH CARE/VETERANS

$36 billion/5 years reduction for Medicare spending in President's FY 07 budget (4-1/2 months in Iraq)

$5 billion/5 years Cut in Medicaid in President's FY 2007 budget (2-1/2 weeks in Iraq)

$2.5 billion/5 years VA health care premium increases in this year's budget. Premiums will double and triple and drug co-payments will increase, costing our military retirees $2.4 billion over 5 years (9 days in Iraq)

$100 million Additional funding recommended for mental health research for Veterans (9 hours in Iraq)

$48 million Medical and prosthetic research for Veterans (half a day in Iraq)

$65 million/yr National Institutes of Health research funding cuts in this year's budget (scientists are leaving the field of health research because funding has been cut so severely) (6 hours in Iraq)

$15 billion/yr Provide health insurance to 9 million children with no health insurance (1-1/2 weeks in Iraq)

$118 million/yr The Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides nutritional food packages for less than $20 a month to more than 400,000 elderly people - eliminated in the President's budget (12 hours in Iraq)

EDUCATION

$3.4 billion/yr Cut in education budget in President's FY 07 budget from FY 06 funding level (over 40 programs including drug-free schools, federal support for the arts,technology and parent-resource centers). (13 days in Iraq)

$664 million/yr Perkins Loan program cut in President's FY 07 budget (would help 463,000 low-income students attend college) (2-1/2 days in Iraq)

$99 million/yr Even Start (eliminated in President's budget) (9 hours in Iraq)

ENVIRONMENT/INFRASTRUCTURE

$300 million President's cut to EPA budget in FY 2007 (1 day, 3 hours in Iraq)

$253 billion/30 years Clean up contaminated sites in US (Up to 350,000 contaminated sites will require cleanup over the next 30 years according to a report released by the EPA.) (2 years in Iraq)

$9.11 billion National Park Service maintenance backlog (1 month, 10 days in Iraq)

$6 billion Forest Service maintenance backlog (3 weeks in Iraq)

$2 billion Fish and Wildlife Service maintenance backlog (2 weeks in Iraq)

$47.2 billion/yr Miscellaneous user fees throughout government imposed by President's budget on taxpayers (6 months in Iraq)

$1.7 billion/yr Grants to states cut in 2007 budget (1 week in Iraq)

$15 million/yr Double the Save America's Treasures program (cut in half from last year's budget) (1.3 hours in Iraq)

DEFENSE

$6 billion Double the number of Navy ships we are buying in the 2007 bill from 6 ships to 12. (3 weeks in Iraq)

$8 billion Double the number of total Air Force aircraft we are buying in this bill. That's right ? we could double the number of F-22s, Joint Strike Fighters, C-130's, Global Hawks and Predators we are buying. Or, we could double the number of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft we are buying F-18s, V-22s, KC-130Js, and so on. (1 month in Iraq)

Rep. John P. Murtha is a member of Congress from Pennsylvania.

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