Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona is a prominent green politician; indeed, many environmental organizations promoted his (now unsuccessful) candidacy to replace Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior. Representative Grijalva published earlier this week in Roll Call an oped entitled, “My Colleagues Want to Gut the Endangered Species Act.” Now, even allowing Representative Grijalva the usual slack for political hyperbole, his critique is, in my view, a little misplaced. To support his point, he notes that former Senator Rick Santorum has observed that the Act often places “critters” above people. He also quotes a GOP representative from Georgia to the effect that the ESA has often been used as a pretext to achieve goals having little to do with species preservation.
Far from being an outright attack on the Act, these criticisms are measured and well-taken. On the first point, it is true that the Act inadequately balances species preservation with human needs. The Fish and Wildlife Service is forbidden to consider such concerns during the listing process, and has few opportunities for doing so in consulting with other federal agencies over the species impacts of their projects. The upshot of this hamstringing is economic and social dislocation, exemplified by the odious effects of Delta-smelt-based water cutbacks on California’s San Joaquin Valley.
On the second point, property owners and users of federal lands know too well that species listings and critical habitat designations comprise an excellent means to derail any private or public productive land use.
Neither criticism can fairly be characterized as an attempt to “gut” the Act. Rather, both are simply attempts to bring balance to environmental conservation. So, is it fair to say that Representative Grijalva’s colleagues want to reform the Act? Undoubtedly. Is it accurate to characterize their reforming zeal as “gutting”? By no means.