reality bites: the Endangered Species Act puts fish before people

July 13, 2009 | By TIMOTHY SANDEFUR

Author: Brandon Middleton

Last week NRDC's Doug Obegi weighed in on the California water crisis by discussing "The Fallacy of 'Fish versus People.'" His message:

While some Members of Congress and other elected officials have fallen hook, line and sinker for the myth that protecting California's endangered fish species like salmon is a struggle of 'people vs fish,' other voices are speaking out passionately against this false choice.

Curiously absent from Mr. Obegi's analysis is any mention of the Endangered Species Act. After all, the Endangered Species Act is the law that codifies that "fish before people" mantra that Mr. Obegi for some reason believes to be a lie.

The omission of the words "Endangered Species Act" is disappointing, but hardly surprising.  As we noted last week, national environmental advocates like Mr. Obegi don't want the public to realize that it is unmistakably clear that the ESA puts fish and endangered species ahead of people.  They want the public to think that everybody is a winner under the Endangered Species Act, but that is far from the truth.

Even the Supreme Court has noted that the ESA is not a statute of equal rights between endangered species and humans, but that instead it affords endangered species "the highest of priorities."  TVA v. Hill suggested that intent of the ESA is "to halt and reverse the trend towards species extinction, whatever the cost."

This language from TVA v. Hill can be used to argue that endangered fish and others species come before people, and that of course is what the national environmental movement has done.  The Endangered Species Act and TVA v. Hill have been numerous times used to stifle the reasonable economic development — in other words, the Endangered Species Act represents a triumph of environmental extremism over human progress.

However one feels about it, there should be no debate that a "fish before people" policy exists in California due the Endangered Species Act.  The real fallacy is for national environmental advocates like Mr. Obegi to suggest otherwise.