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Comptroller urges amending ESA

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June 19, 2012 | 1,444 views | Post a comment

(AUSTIN) -- Texas Comptroller Susan Combs today urged a federal committee on Natural Resources to amend the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and she provided recommendations to make the process more science-based, cost effective and transparent.

In comments submitted to the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources Oversight Hearing, Combs said excessive ESA litigation can increase regulatory uncertainty for many entities such as private landowners and businesses. In this economy, putting jobs at risk without science is irresponsible, Combs said.

“We continue to reiterate that sound peer-reviewed science must be used in all listing decisions, and conservation efforts should be implemented, if necessary, in close coordination with impacted stakeholders,” Combs said to the oversight hearing which was titled, “Taxpayer-Funded Litigation: Benefitting Lawyers and Harming Species, Jobs and Schools.”

In the last four years the federal government has defended more than 570 ESA-related lawsuits, costing U.S. taxpayers more than $15 million in attorney fees, according to data obtained from the Department of Justice.

“The large amount of litigation surrounding the ESA highlights the deeply flawed processes within the ESA,” Combs said.

Combs is the presiding officer of the legislatively created Interagency Task Force on Economic Growth and Endangered Species, which serves to facilitate economic growth in the face of existing and flawed ESA regulations. Last week, the Combs-led Texas Conservation Plan (TCP) was a major reason the dunes sagebrush lizard did not warrant listing as a threatened or endangered species.

The multi-species settlements between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and environmental groups have failed to provide any certainty and have made the process even less transparent. Combs said it remains difficult to ascertain which species are under review because there is not a complete public list of all petitions received and species under review.

Through research provided by the Comptroller’s office, there are 72 species in Texas included in the settlement with FWS, but a total of 114 species in the state are under review for changes in listing status.

In her remarks today to the Natural Resources Oversight Hearing, Combs laid out the following recommendations for reform.

* More credible and complete science should be used in decisions regarding endangered species, and that data should be peer reviewed by independent, objective and qualified scientists. The proper application of scientific principles will inform decisions and minimize the risk of unwarranted ESA regulatory burdens and inefficient use of resources.

* Timelines required for responding to petitions under the ESA should be adjusted to reflect appropriate time frames to thoroughly respond to petitions. This will save taxpayer dollars currently used in lawsuits.

* Opportunities for recovery should be included in conservation efforts to more quickly lead to the delisting of species.

* Once FWS determines a species is no longer endangered, the species should be delisted using an expedited process.

* FWS should handle all species reviews and listing decisions in a more transparent manner. Any information related to listing decisions including range determinations, data, assumptions, studies and modeling must be available on a timely basis for public review and comment. Additionally, FWS should provide more information and outreach on species under review and work with partner agencies to make publicly available a single source of information for all species under review.

Complete comments, more information about the species under review in Texas and additional impacts of the ESA can be found at www.keepingtexasfirst.org.
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