Yesterday marked the 38th anniversary of the day that the dewy-eyed environmentalist, Richard M. Nixon, signed into law the Endangered Species Act. At the time, this was the crown jewel of the environmental movement, then in its infancy. Now, Washington congressman Doc Hastings seeks to gut the landmark bill and, as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is promising hearings in 2012.
Of course, the Eastern Washington lawmaker does so at his own peril. When Richard Pombo, a California Republican who chaired the committee, sought to weaken the Act, environmentalists worked hard to ensure his defeat in 2006.
Still, Hastings insists that the law "is failing and failing badly," in its goal of recovering endangered species. In making his case, Hastings cites figures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who estimate that of the nearly 2,000 U.S. and foreign plant and animal species that the law protects, only two dozen have "recovered" enough to be removed from the list.
"That's a 1 percent recovery rate," Hastings said at a hearing in early December, "and I firmly believe we can do better than that." Hastings added that the law has triggered hundreds of lawsuits and has thwarted job-creating projects.
If Hastings follows through with threats to overhaul the Endangered Species Act, he too may find himself on an endangered list, as environmentalists are prepared to challenge him.
Hastings has not yet revealed exactly when he intends to do as far as changing the law, but said at the hearing, "I believe it's the responsibility of this committee and Congress to ask questions and examine if the original intent of the law is being carried out two decades later."