Author: Brandon Middleton
One of the fundamental problems of national environmental organizations is that they equate reasoned opposition of overzealous enforcement of federal environmental laws to a pro-pollution stance. Earthjustice’s Brian Smith contends that the attorneys and staff members here at Pacific Legal Foundation are “anti-environmental” simply because we believe California’s water pumps should operate as intended and not be subject to stringent Endangered Species Act restrictions.
But the Endangered Species Act is not about protecting endangered species. It does a poor job at that (Does anyone really expect the status of fish species to improve as a result of biological opinions?) and is better understood as a job and innovation killer.
Of course Mr. Smith is right that “[t]he mission of the [Endangered Species Act] remains very popular among the American people.” But the too often untold story, and the reason why PLF is asking that the “God Squad” be convened (h/t: Redding Record Searchlight), is how unforgiving this law can be and how it discourages species conservation. Most Americans have never had to deal directly with the application of the ESA, so should we really expect them to oppose a law meant to protect endangered species?
The Endangered Species Act is not so popular with those who actually bear the brunt of its application, and there’s a reason for this: the Endangered Species Act places the interests of human beings below that of endangered animals.
It is both sad and amusing that some like Dan Bacher (h/t: Indybay) suggest that the “fish versus people” phenomenon is a “big lie” and is simply “the mantra of corporate agribusiness,” when in fact the Supreme Court has held that the intent of the ESA is “to halt and reverse the trend towards species extinction, whatever the cost” and that this law struck a balance “in favor of affording endangered species the highest of priorities” – if Mr. Bacher wishes to perpetuate the myth that the ESA does not present a conflict between fish and people (h/t: Indian Country Today), he may wish to review numerous ESA cases in which this draconian language from TVA v. Hill has been used to place the interests of endangered species above that of human beings.
One other point should be made regarding Mr. Bacher’s June 29, 2009 Indybay article. If one is to believe Mr. Bacher, this was the atmosphere of the June 28 town hall meeting with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in Fresno:
The right side of the room was filled with loud and angry agribusiness representatives, whom Salazar at one point admonished for interrrupting and heckling [Deputy Secretary] David Hayes. The left side of the room was filled with over 100 red-shirted members of the United Farmworkers Union (UFW) who remained largely silent except for when UFW President Arturo Rodriguez spoke. At that time, they clapped loudly.
This is quite a misrepresentation of the crowd, which contained passionate but polite views from all sides. More importantly, Mr. Bacher fails to include a key aspect of the brief interruption of Mr. Hayes: context. Mr. Hayes had been discussing potential short term solutions to the water crisis with no mention of the common sense solution of more water. Instead, Mr. Hayes offered the possibility of monetary relief.
To farmers and most other Americans, the suggestion that one’s problems can be solved through government welfare is an insult. It is justifiable, then, that a farmer would object to Mr. Hayes' non-solution by exclaiming that “We don’t want welfare, we want water!”
This is not a difficult message to understand, but Mr. Bacher and others would label those who take this approach as corporate stooges. It is beyond us how addressing a water crisis by allowing more water to flow is anything but common sense. And to the extent that “God Squad” allows common sense to prevail by easing draconian water restrictions, that is only the saving grace of the Endangered Species Act.
No one is pretending that convening the “God Squad” will solve all of California’s water problems. But the status quo cannot remain. The “God Squad” must be convened in order to ensure that the Endangered Species Act does not make the California farming community itself an endangered species.