The Endangered Species Act (ESA), enacted in 1973 with the aim of conserving and protecting species of flora and fauna threatened with extinction, is arguably the most powerful environmental law in the U.S. Code. It is also the most controversial. In over thirty-five years the act has recovered few species from the brink of extinction. Well over 1,200 species have been listed as threatened or endangered, but few have been restored to healthy status. Measured solely in terms of its environmental effects, few would call the ESA a "success."
The ESA's failures have not been due to a lack of enforceable provisions. The law imposes costly requirements on government agencies and private landowners to refrain from taking actions that could harm species and imposes extensive planning and consultation requirements on federal agencies. Today, the act is the source of extensive litigation in federal courts as environmental activists, regulated interests, and government agencies spar over its implementation, including its application to greenhouse gas emissions and other regulatory programs. The ESA's regulatory strictures cost more than money, however. Increasing empirical evidence shows that the law pits endangered species against private landowners, encourages preemptive habitat destruction, and penalizes environmental stewardship on private land.
At this one-day conference, leading environmental policy experts, academics, and legal scholars will discuss their proposals for new and innovative reforms that challenge conventional conservation strategies and seek to enhance economic efficiency and environmental conservation simultaneously.