And....Moratorium Asked on Suits That Seek to Protect Species
tmoritz at amnh.org
Thu Apr 12 12:31:29 PDT 2001
From: tmoritz at amnh.org
To: tmoritz at amnh.org
Subject: NYTimes.com Article: Moratorium Asked on Suits That Seek to Protect
Message-Id: <20010412192017.92E9158A51 at email5.lga2.nytimes.com>
Date: Thu, 12 Apr 2001 15:20:17 -0400 (EDT)
This article from NYTimes.com
has been sent to you by tmoritz at amnh.org.
Moratorium Asked on Suits That Seek to Protect Species
By DOUGLAS JEHL
WASHINGTON, 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
"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
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
"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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