Saving Species as the Climate Changes: Blame Partisan Environmentalists

The perennial problems in the administration of the Endangered Species Act show the limitation of aspirational legislation in a domain that defies the standard regulatory solutions. Put simply, if the act were applied uniformly to all of the species in the U.S. that are potential candidates for its reach, Congress would swiftly repeal it.

Supporters of the Endangered Species Act are unwilling to back a more aggressive approach for fear that Congress will gut the act completely.

The hastily enacted amendment to the act to allow the Tellico Dam project to go forward after listing the snail darter on the endangered species list back in the 1970s foreshadowed the problem faced ever since: the Endangered Species Act's potential costs were too high if enforced aggressively. Hence the Fish and Wildlife Service has deliberately slow-walked petitions by keeping the budget severely limited to preserve political viability. This has been true regardless of the party in the White House--the steep decline in Fish and Wildlife listings actually began under the Clinton administration.

The problems with the Environmental Species Act are merely a microcosm of the larger gridlock over environmental policy across the board. Candid environmentalists know the act works poorly, but are unwilling to support possible reform for fear that Congress will gut the act completely--better something that works poorly than nothing at all. Perhaps they are right in this calculation.

But how did we come to this pass? It is all but forgotten today that the Endangered Species Act had considerable conservative support in the 1970s; one of its chief co-sponsors was conservative Senator James Buckley (William F. Buckley's brother); Newt Gingrich still defends the act, but gets no credit for it whatsoever from environmentalists.

Maybe that is the problem: the increasing partisanship and bad faith of the environmental movement is now the chief obstacle to sensible reform of the Endangered Species Act and other antique environmental statutes.

Steven F. Hayward is the F.K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at AEI.

Davo/Flickr/Creative Commons

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Steven F.
Hayward
  • Steven F. Hayward was previously the F.K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at AEI. He is the author of the Almanac of Environmental Trends, and the author of many books on environmental topics. He has written biographies of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and of Winston Churchill, and the upcoming book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents. He contributed to AEI's Energy and Environment Outlook series. 

What's new on AEI

Study: Piketty tax plan would boost equality by making rich less rich. But poor would be poorer, too
image Rep. McCaul’s cybersecurity information sharing center: If you build it, will they come?
image Halbig and its aftermath
image Culture of how Washington pays for medical care
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 28
    MON
  • 29
    TUE
  • 30
    WED
  • 31
    THU
  • 01
    FRI
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Is Medicare's future secure? The 2014 Trustees Report

Please join AEI as the chief actuary for Medicare summarizes the report’s results, followed by a panel discussion of what those spending trends are likely to mean for seniors, taxpayers, the health industry, and federal policy.

Event Registration is Closed
Friday, August 01, 2014 | 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Watergate revisited: The reforms and the reality, 40 years later

Please join us as four of Washington’s most distinguished political observers will revisit the Watergate hearings and discuss reforms that followed.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.