Senator places hold on bill to amend ESA

November 19, 2002

E&E Daily

By Natalie M. Henry, Environment & Energy Daily staff writer

The Senate was expected to take up a wildlife bill under unanimous
consent this week when consent, at least off Capitol Hill, is anything
but unanimous. But an anonymous senator has placed a hold on the bill,
apparently due to concerns from farming, ranching and property rights
advocates who fear the measure will expand the Endangered Species Act to
further limit private property rights, while also jeopardizing water
rights. Environmental groups support the bill.

S. 990, introduced by Sen. Robert Smith (R-N.H.), authorizes $150
million for a new grant program for private landowners seeking to make
changes on their land that could help ESA-listed species -- threatened,
endangered and even those on the candidate list. The landowner would
apply for the grant to the Interior or Commerce Department and, through
a species recovery agreement, the landowner would agree to perform a
certain action and the government would pay for all or part of it. Any
action required by another agreement would not be eligible, according to
a Senate staffer.

The Senate originally passed S. 990 last December, also under unanimous
consent, and sent it to the House, where it languished for months until
retiring House Resources Committee Chairman James Hansen (R-Utah)
brought it to the floor at 2 a.m. Friday. His committee held neither a
hearing nor a vote on the legislation.

According to sources, several Republican committee members opposed the
bill. Opposition was scarce on the House floor, as Hansen attached a
number of smaller bills favored by Republican and Democratic Resources
Committee members (Environment & Energy Daily, Nov. 18). Environmental
groups also favored a number of the bills added to S. 990, including one
providing $25 million for an international grant program for sea
turtles, a nutria eradication program and a number of wildlife refuge
acquisitions and changes.

Hansen removed one part of S. 990, a provision amending the
Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, because it was too similar
to the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, according to the committee.
CARA is a controversial bill to dedicate consistent federal revenue for
species conservation.

The Senate staffer said the ESA language authorizing species recovery
agreements was also taken from CARA, though that was not the part of
CARA generating controversy. S. 990 includes no mandatory funding at
all, instead requiring annual appropriations. "This is not CARA in any
way," the staffer said.

The American Land Rights Association maintains that S. 990 would amount
to the first changes to ESA in 14 years, all without any recorded votes
or hearings. Mike Hardiman, a lobbyist for ALRA, also criticized Hansen
for bringing up the bill in the wee hours of the night when few were
looking, and adding a number of other measures that many members on both
sides of the aisle wanted.

Hardiman said the text of the bill would result in more private land
regulation. "It changes the text of the Endangered Species Act to
cantilever out so they can regulate God-knows-how-much-more land," he
said. Creating a new species at-risk category will mean more
regulations, Hardiman said. Another group, Defenders of Property Rights,
agreed, saying species recovery agreements would be another way the
government could keep landowners from performing otherwise legal
activities on private land in the name of species conservation.

John Kostyack of the National Wildlife Federation said S. 990 does not
mean more regulations to protect candidate species, or species at-risk.

Rather, S. 990 would provide money to private landowners for any
conservation-minded activity that would help a candidate species and
thereby help the species avoid becoming threatened or endangered, which
helps the landowner maintain his or her property value.

Keeping candidate species off the list "is one concept there's always
been broad consensus around," Kostyack said.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is concerned about the changes to
ESA but is focusing more on threats to water rights in the bill. Title
II, which NWF also supports, authorizes $50 million to provide grants to
states working to protect watersheds and private lands. The Farm Bureau
says the grants would allow states to buy water rights, a concept the
bureau fought long and hard against last year when Sen. Harry Reid
(D-Nev.) introduced the same concept to the farm bill.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is also concerned with both
the water rights and ESA provisions. However, according to a spokesman
for the association, NCBA has not decided whether or not the ESA changes
are incompatible with the goals of NCBA's members. If they are, the
spokesman said NCBA will be looking at ways it could make its own
changes to ESA within S. 990.

Both NCBA and the Farm Bureau sent letters to the speaker of the House
and the entire Resources Committee last week, before Hansen brought the
bill to the floor, asking to have an open debate on the bill and not
pass it by unanimous consent, according to a House staffer.

A Senate staffer confirmed that an anonymous senator has put a hold on
S. 990. According to another Senate staffer, only the senator that
places the hold can lift the hold, and if she or he does not lift the
hold before the end of session, the bill is dead.


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