Pombo Overhauls Endangered Species Act

A local congressman has orchestrated an initial victory on
Capitol Hill for his efforts to overhaul the Endangered Species
Gilroy – A local congressman has orchestrated an initial victory on Capitol Hill for his efforts to overhaul the Endangered Species Act.

A House committee Thursday approved a sweeping rewrite of the legislation that hands major new rights to property owners while limiting the federal government’s ability to protect plant and animal habitat.

The bill, by U.S. Representative Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, bars the government from establishing “critical habitat” for species where development is limited, and sets deadlines for property owners to get answers from the government about whether their development plans would hurt protected species.

If the government doesn’t answer in time, the development could go forward. If the government blocks a development, the property owner would be compensated.

The bill “will place a new emphasis on recovery and eliminates dysfunctional critical habitat provisions,” Pombo said. “It’s about a new era in protecting species and protecting habitat at the same time we protect property owners.”

In the Gilroy area, at least one developer who has experienced headaches with the California Tiger Salamander welcomed the legislation.

James Suner said efforts to avoid encroaching on the endangered species’ habitat have delayed several of his projects. He believes federal laws protecting species should be limited to the annexation of large tracts of land, rather than affecting smaller projects within city limits. He criticized a current regional effort to protect habitat as slow-moving and inadequately thought out.

“They wanted to set up a regional Habitat Conservation Plan, but they couldn’t tell us how to do it, who was going to be involved, and how much it was going to cost,” Suner said. “I think what Pombo is doing is trying to get a time limit.”

But others have a less benign view of Pombo’s efforts.

“The bay area is home to over 100 endangered plant and animal species,” noted Elizabeth Stampe, spokeswoman for the region’s Greenbelt Alliance. “The greatest threat to their survival is sprawl development. Representative Pombo’s effort to gut the Endangered Species Act by removing critical habitat designations is a terrible idea.”

The House Resources Committee, which Pombo presides over as chairman, approved the bill on a 26 to 12 vote, over objections from some Democrats and moderate Republicans who said it would disfigure the landmark 32-year-old law that environmentalists credit with preserving species like the bald eagle and California sea otter.

The bill now goes to the full House, where Pombo says he has a commitment from Republican leaders to schedule a floor vote as early as next week. About a decade ago, Pombo failed to get the House to approve a rewrite of the Endangered Species Act, but he said he anticipates success this time.

Eight committee Democrats joined Pombo in supporting the bill; two Republicans voted no.

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