Senior members of Congress, including Representative Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Resources Committee, and Senator James Inhofe (R-Ok.), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, have once again begun talking about reforming the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). Repeated failures over the past decade to enact any ESA reforms at all suggest that this isn’t going to be easy. And it is not yet clear whether the reforms to be proposed are going to be worth the heavy lifting needed to push them toward enactment.
Before discussing the prospects for reform in the 109th Congress, it is worth considering how we got to where we are now.
The ESA is the most sacred of the environmental movement’s sacred cows. I use the word “sacred” literally. In the mid-1990s, then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt gave a number of speeches and interviews in which he said that the ESA was the translation into public policy of God’s commandment in the Book of Genesis to Noah to save two of every species in the Ark. Anyone who wanted to reform the ESA, said Babbitt, was refusing to hear “the command of our Creator.”