Secretary Salazar's shameful ignorance of the Endangered Species Act


Author: Brandon Middleton

Via Aquafornia, we learn of a recent statement by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar concerning new California water legislation and the forthcoming National Academy of Sciences reviews of the delta smelt and salmon biological opinions. Secretary Salazar's statement begins as follows:

Today, Governor Schwarzenegger is signing milestone water legislation in Fresno County, one of the counties hardest hit by California’s water crisis – a crisis caused by the brutal combination of a three-year drought, the collapse of native fisheries in the Bay Delta, and the fact that California’s investments in water conservation and infrastructure have not kept up with its growth.

This is a gross oversight by Salazar. The Secretary has implied that the current water crisis has nothing to do with his own department's Endangered Species Act restrictions. In so doing, Salazar has defied what is clear to the San Joaquin Valley and those who see through environmental extremism — the Endangered Species Act has turned California's water crisis from bad to much worse.

Secretary Salazar's failure to acknowledge the role of the ESA in this crisis would be forgivable but for his seemingly conscious effort to dismiss the existence of a regulatory drought.  For example, at a Fresno town hall meeting in June, the Secretary barely mentioned the words "Endangered Species Act" and appeared more interested in giving the San Joaquin Valley money than in allowing water to flow more freely.

In September, Salazar and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke again downplayed the adverse effects of the Endangered Species Act as mere "claims that environmental protections mandated by Federal law have caused the water shortages in the Central Valley of California" (italics mine).

Later that month, Secretary Salazar issued an insulting "Reality Check" on California's water crisis that failed to simply admit the harm the Endangered Species Act is bringing to the San Joaquin Valley. He similarly couldn't answer Congressman Tom McClintock's question as to whether more than 200 billion gallons of water have been diverted from the Central Valley to meet environmental regulations protecting the delta smelt.

And now we know for certain that Secretary Salazar believes there are only three causes to California's water crisis: natural drought, collapsing fisheries, and inadequate investments in water conservation and infrastructure. The Secretary's recent statement on the situation does not make one mention of the Endangered Species Act.

One can only guess what the Secretary's reasons are for ignoring the Endangered Species Act and its resulting harm. Perhaps he wants to maintain the ESA's appearance as a warm and fuzzy statute that helps endangered species without a significant cost to societal wellbeing. After all, once you begin to acknowledge that the ESA can jeopardize the nation's food supply and the livelihoods of thousands of hardworking Americans, and once you begin to understand that this law doesn't always help species, then you begin to question the underlying merits of the ESA.

Whatever the case may be, the point is that Secretary Salazar's failure to admit that the Endangered Species Act is depriving humans of water is becoming more and more disturbing.  The Secretary is a public official and, as such, needs to do a better job of explaining the role of the ESA in the water cutbacks.