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

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 27
    MON
  • 28
    TUE
  • 29
    WED
  • 30
    THU
  • 31
    FRI
Monday, October 27, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
State income taxes and the Supreme Court: Maryland Comptroller v. Wynne

Please join AEI for a panel discussion exploring these and other questions about this crucial case.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 9:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
For richer, for poorer: How family structures economic success in America

Join Lerman, Wilcox, and a group of distinguished scholars and commentators for the release of Lerman and Wilcox’s report, which examines the relationships among and policy implications of marriage, family structure, and economic success in America.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
The 7 deadly virtues: 18 conservative writers on why the virtuous life is funny as hell

Please join AEI for a book forum moderated by Last and featuring five of these leading conservative voices. By the time the forum is over, attendees may be on their way to discovering an entirely different — and better — moral universe.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
A nuclear deal with Iran? Weighing the possibilities

Join us, as experts discuss their predictions for whether the United States will strike a nuclear deal with Iran ahead of the November 24 deadline, and the repercussions of the possible outcomes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.
The forgotten depression ā€” 1921: The crash that cured itself

Please join Author James Grant and AEI senior economists for a discussion about Grant's book, "The Forgotten Depression: 1921: The Crash That Cured Itself" (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

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