Friday, July 01, 2005

ESA REFORM

Property Rights Advocates Brace for Another Betrayal

Still reeling from the Supreme Court decision Kelo v. City of New London, property rights advocates are bracing themselves for another betrayal of private property rights -- this time from the GOP-controlled Congress -- according to The National Center for Public Policy Research. Business interests may again benefit at the expense of small property owners through Endangered Species Act (ESA) reform, if leaked draft language obtained by The National Center from a journalist is any indication. One of the purported provisions calls for compensation when ESA regulations diminish the value of a person's property -- but only if it is devalued by at least 50 percent. "There are a lot of folks who have a problem with letting government take 49.9 percent of their property -- a civil right - - before anybody cares," said David Ridenour, Vice President of The National Center for Public Policy Research. "Those with large landholdings may be able to afford this, but the little guy just can't. If you're a small property owner, I don't know how you can look at this as anything but a betrayal." It is doubtful that even this modest level of compensation would end up in a final bill. Even if it does, compensation may still be out of reach for many property owners -- including those whose property diminishes in value by more than half -- because they simply can't afford the costs of all the bureaucratic hoops they must jump through in order to file a successful claim. Another purported provision would vastly expand the scope of the ESA to regulate so-called "invasive species." If true, this would represent a major assault on private property rights. Invasive species are species that have expanded beyond their normal distribution. Under this definition, almost anything could qualify for regulation. Tall fescue, for example, a grass commonly used by homeowners for their lawns, could qualify. Any regulation of invasive species - never before regulated under the Endangered Species Act - would be a step toward the government telling Americans what they can use for their lawns, what flowers they can have in their flowerbeds and what vegetables they can plant in their gardens....


Species law reform summary worries both left and right


For months, observers on both sides of the political fence have waited for Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, and his colleagues on the House Resources Committee to offer legislation to change the Endangered Species Act. No bill is due until mid-July, but many have gotten their first glimpse from an outline passed around Washington, D.C. Activists on the right and the left have found plenty to dislike. Pombo’s Resources Committee staff, however, says the summary is an old document that environmentalists are using to create controversy. The four-page document bears the Heading “Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005,” and refers to the proposed new law by that name. This is followed by 10 sections, each listing a problem with the 31-year-old act, along with a proposed solution. According to the document's description, the new act would give local governments a bigger say in habitat decisions, improve the science behind decisions and give incentives to landowners who have endangered species on their land. It also states that the legislation would eliminate the “outdated, expensive and irrelevant ESA Committee (God Squad)” and place enforcement under the U.S. Department of the Interior, an agency that has been criticized by environmentalists. Brian Kennedy, press secretary for Pombo at the Resources Committee, said the document circulated for months and had been sent to politicians in both parties. He characterized the document as “a set of concepts.” Property-rights advocate David Ridenour contacted the Tracy Press this week to say that he had seen the document and other material related to a proposed Endangered Species Act revision. While he and others have long sought changes — or in some cases, outright repeal — of the existing act, Ridenour said that the summary gave him pause. “He (Pombo) has spoken out very strongly for property rights over the years, but in terms of actually delivering, we haven’t seen much,” Ridenour said. “We’ve been hoping that this would be the year he delivered.” Ridenour went on to say that some changes mentioned in the summary would be “a huge step forward.”....

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