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

image Recovering from tax time blues
image 10 welfare reform lessons
image Let HHS nominee Sylvia Burwell explain Obamacare lie
image Why bold ideas backfire in politics
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 14
    MON
  • 15
    TUE
  • 16
    WED
  • 17
    THU
  • 18
    FRI
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Calling treason by its name: A conversation with Liam Fox

Join us at AEI as the Right Honorable Liam Fox sits down with Marc Thiessen to discuss and debate whether America’s intelligence agencies have infringed on the personal privacy of US citizens.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
The curmudgeon's guide to getting ahead

How can young people succeed in workplaces dominated by curmudgeons who are judging their every move? At this AEI book event, bestselling author and social scientist Charles Murray will offer indispensable advice for navigating the workplace, getting ahead, and living a fulfilling life.

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.