Government Is Not Reporting Billions Spent on Endangered Species Act, Study Shows: PLF Calls for True Accounting of Economic, Human, and Social Costs of ESA
Sacramento,CA; April 14, 2004: Pacific Legal Foundation today called for a true accounting of the Endangered Species Act, pointing to a study released today showing that billions of dollars in costs spent enforcing and complying with the ESA are not being reported to Congress or the American people. The study, Accounting for Species: Calculating the True Costs of the Endangered Species Act, was conducted by the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC). PERC researchers found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) grossly underreported federal and state ESA costs in its recent report to Congress, and completely ignored the private economic and social costs of ESA compliance, which together easily total billions of dollars a year.
The ESA requires the FWS to report to Congress annually on ESA expenditures by federal agencies and states receiving grants under the Act. In December, 2003, FWS released its Three-Year Summary of Federal and State Endangered Species Expenditures, Fiscal Years 1998-2000, to account for three years of missed reports from 1998-2000.
PERC researchers found that the FWS report does not provide an accurate or comprehensive assessment of the true costs of the ESA. For example, the FWS reports that in 2000, state and federal expenditures totaled $610.3 million. PERC estimates that the actual government costs annually are as much as four times greater—or $2.4 billion. FWS also reports that in the 11 years from 1989 to 2000, just over $3.5 billion of taxpayer dollars was spent on ESA-related activities. According to PERC, the actual cost of protecting species, adding private costs to government expenditures, may easily reach or exceed $3.5 billion per year.
“PERC’s study shows that the government has no idea what the ESA is truly costing, but it does give us an idea of the enormous human costs of ESA regulation—and they’re often devastating. People have lost their jobs, businesses, homes, farms, and even their lives to protect plants, insects, and fish,” said Emma T. Suárez , an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, a public interest legal organization that is a national leader in the effort to raise awareness of the ESA’s impact on people.
“The government is accountable to the people, and good law takes people into account,” said Suárez. “When it comes to the ESA, a true accounting for the law’s impact on Americans begins with Fish and Wildlife Service doing a better job at collecting the information it is supposed to collect under the law. Furthermore, the ESA needs to be changed so that information on impacts to local governments, communities, and individuals is also collected.”
“We’re asking the government to account to the people for a failed law that ignores human values,” added Suárez.
“The FWS report does not come close to accounting for the true costs to taxpayers and consumers of complying with the ESA,” said report authors Dr. Randy T. Simmons, a Senior Associate at PERC and a political science professor at Utah State University, and Kimberly Frost. Dr. Simmons has studied the Endangered Species Act extensively and is the author of a book on endangered species written for high school students.
“We’ve spent trillions of dollars on the ESA and the few species that have been delisted were not removed because of ESA protections. Taxpayers deserve to know if we’re getting what we pay for. An honest public dialogue about the value and effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act must take into account the costs incurred by taxpayers and the people being regulated. The government is ignoring the human costs in the ESA equation,” added Simmons and Frost.
WHY THE FWS COST REPORT IS INCOMPLETE AND INACCURATE
According to PERC’s study, FWS omits the following critical information in its 2003 cost report:
Not Reported: Actual costs to taxpayers; only estimates are provided.
According to PERC, 50% of the total expenditures reported by the FWS for 2000 are for the top seven species, or just 0.6% of the ESA list. Salmon species are by far the costliest, accounting for the top five most expensive species in 2000. Fish make up a full eight of the top ten.
PERC’s study reveals that these FWS cost numbers are also gross underestimates and conflict with other government reports. For example, a 2002 General Accounting Office study on federal expenditures to preserve only salmon on the Columbia and Snake River Basins in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho reported that $1.505 billion in taxpayer dollars was spent from 1997-2001. However, the 2003 FWS report states that just over $1.87 billion was spent on all ESA-listed species from 1997-2000.
THE ESA IS NOT SAVING SPECIES
According to the FWS, as of December, 2003, 1,260 U.S. species were listed as endangered and only 15 have been delisted. However, PERC reports that the majority of the 15 delisted species were delisted because of original listing data errors, such as inaccurate government surveys that undercount a species later found to never have been endangered. Other species were conserved by state agencies or private organizations.
“The fact that salmon protection is eating up the bulk of ESA spending is particularly outrageous in light of recent court decisions finding that the coho salmon has been undercounted and illegally listed by the government,” said PLF attorney Emma Suárez. “The government has been using the same illegal counting methods for the chinook, chub, sockeye, and steelhead salmon, which means five of the top ten most expensive species never should have been listed in the first place. Many dollars have been wasted and people's lives have been devastated for fish that are not endangered.”
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