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Thomas Moritz tmoritz at AMNH.ORG
Thu Apr 12 17:24:53 CDT 2001

>Protect Species
>Date: Thu, 12 Apr 2001 15:20:17 -0400 (EDT)
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>Moratorium Asked on Suits That Seek  to Protect Species
>ASHINGTON, April 11 — The Bush administration has asked Congress to
>set aside, at least for a year, a provision of the Endangered
>Species Act that has been the main tool used by citizens' groups to
>win protection for plants and animals.
> The request, spelled out in a section of the budget document that
>President Bush sent to Capitol Hill on Monday, would make it much
>more difficult for citizens to use the courts to force the Fish and
>Wildlife Service to act on petitions to list a species as
> Officials at the Interior Department defended the request today as
>necessary to let an overburdened agency regain control of a mission
>that they said has increasingly been driven by the courts, with
>dozens of cases involving more than 400 species now on the dockets.
> If Congress approves the plan, the Fish and Wildlife Service
>would devote its available money next year to listing the
>endangered-species cases it deemed to be top priorities, while
>being specifically barred from spending any money to carry out new
>court orders or settlements involving other plants or animals.
> "We want a chance to establish our own priorities, instead of just
>waiting for another court order to roll across the transom," said
>Stephanie Hanna, an Interior department spokeswoman. Ms. Hanna said
>the department would decide next year whether to extend the request
>beyond the 2002 fiscal year.
> The leaders of environmental groups, along with some Congressional
>Democrats, denounced the plan as one that would take power away
>from citizens and put it in the hands of an agency that they said
>had been reluctant to make the hard decisions involved in
>designating endangered species.
> "If you didn't have the citizens' suits, you'd basically have the
>power brokers determining if you were going to save the salmon or
>the spotted owl, and that just doesn't make sense," Representative
>George Miller, Democrat of California, said today.
> Democrats opposing the move invoked the threat of a filibuster to
>kill it. Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, said that
>"any and all" tactics would be considered to defeat the proposal.
> The administration proposal reflects a longstanding battle over
>how far the government should go in determining what species are
>deserving of protection, with business and other property owners
>critical of the reach of the 1973 law.
> Under the administration plan, citizens could still petition the
>wildlife service with endangered-species requests, and to file suit
>in attempts to force action. But for next year, at least, the
>service would not be bound by deadlines requiring a prompt
>response, a change that would end the leverage citizens use to seek
>help from the courts.
> The service would honor any court orders or settlements on
>endangered species in effect at the time the law was passed, a
>commitment that interior department officials said would consume
>the majority of this year's $8.7 million budget for the listings.
> But the prohibition on spending related to new court orders or
>settlement would be absolute, department officials said, leaving
>the balance of the funds to support the agency's own listings
> Of more than 1,200 species that the wildlife service has listed as
>threatened, the vast majority — including the northern spotted owl
>and the Atlantic salmon — owe that status to legal pressure brought
>on the agency by outside groups.
> At the same time, though, a proliferation of lawsuits in recent
>years has left decisions on 250 candidate species or their critical
>habitats still awaiting agency review.
> Despite that backlog, a memorandum circulated within the agency in
>November said resources had become so strapped that its own
>listings efforts were being suspended to provide officials the time
>and money to address the legal challenges.
> Interior department officials today cited that Clinton
>administration warning in describing what they hoped to avoid
>during the new administration; their views were echoed by
>Congressional Republicans.
> "Under the existing scenario, anybody can sue, and the limited
>resources of the department were spent defending the case," said
>Representative George P. Radanovich, a California Republican who
>heads a caucus of conservative Western lawmakers. "At the same
>time, a lot of people have been using the endangered species act
>not for the protection of endangered species, but for the
>advancement of a no-growth agenda."
> In addition to 75 active lawsuits involving endangered species,
>the service is preparing to defend 86 more cases in which it has
>received notices of intent to sue. Projects the agency planned for
>this year included final designations of critical habitat for 180
>endangered species, with preliminary decisions on 240 more, but
>those were in danger of being swamped by the legal challenges.
> Lawyers with experience in endangered-species cases said that if
>Congress grants the protection the administration seeks, it could
>not easily be overridden, even by a judge.
> In a recent ruling in the case of Environmental Defense Center v.
>Babbitt, they noted, the United States Court of Appeals for the
>Ninth Circuit in San Francisco ruled in the government's favor to
>uphold a spending moratorium against other obligations related to
>endangered species.
> For that reason, leaders of environmental groups that have
>successfully used the law were particularly vocal today in
>denouncing the administration proposal.
> At Defenders of Wildlife, officials said the determination by the
>wildlife service came only after the group filed three challenges
>in court.
> "One of the reasons that the Endangered Species Act works is that
>Congress gave citizens a right to petition and to sue," said Rodger
>Schlickeisen, the group's president. "Congress set those statutory
>deadlines on purpose because they knew that agencies would have a
>hard time acting on their own in an atmosphere of political
> The administration's effort to seek changes in the
>endangered-species process comes as some Congressional Democrats
>have joined Republicans in saying that the act itself may need an
> In the House, Representative James V. Hansen, the Utah Republican
>who is chairman of the House Resources Committee, set up a
>bipartisan Endangered Species Act Working Group today to draft
>proposed changes to the law, which has been been due for
>reauthorization since 1991.
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Date: Thu, 12 Apr 2001 17:26:53 -0400
From: Tom Moritz <tmoritz at>
Subject: Just for the record: Moratorium Asked on Suits That Seek  to
  Protect Species ( Article )
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