CNN Environment

Is Endangered Species Act in danger?

two babies September 26, 1995

In the second part of our series on endangered species, CNN examines the force behind the movement to weaken the Endangered Species Act.

From Environmental Correspondent Sharon Collins

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Endangered Species Act as we know it is itself endangered. The House of Representatives is considering a measure that would significantly weaken the act and would, among other things, allow destruction of forests and other places where rare animals and plants live.

California Rep. Richard Pombo rolled into Washington, D.C., on a timber tide and almost immediately began rewriting the Species Act. "We've tried to bring in the competing interests and bring in a balanced plan," Pombo said.

Environmental groups say it's nothing more than payback for industry support. They claim the Pombo bill is catering to timber interests, mining interests, power companies and big agribusiness. Pombo calls the accusations "absolutely false".

He says his major goal in going into all of this was to protect the small and medium-sized property owners. Among the many changes Pombo wants is for government to pay property owners if endangered species restrictions devalue their land. (1.5M QuickTime movie)

timber Opponents claim the ensuing legal battles will hit our tax pocket and take something even more costly. "We're not going to be able to protect endangered species in the future -- whether it's elephants in Africa or whether it's rare plants that might be producing the cure for cancer," said Jim Jontz of the Endangered Species Coalition. "We'll be rolling back the law to before Richard Nixon."

Jontz Pombo says that's absolutely untrue and notes there are criminal and civil penalties for the direct taking of an endangered animal. But the new bill could lead to the removal of limits on incidental kills, which protect animals like sea turtles or dolphins caught in fishing nets. According to many scientists, those limits may be the only thing keeping some species from extinction.

"That's crazy," Pombo said. "All they're trying to do is use this as a fund-raising tool to go out and try to scare people."

turtle Environmental organizations claim Americans should be scared because, all debates aside, it is a fact that under this bill those who try to protect wildlife will have to prove the value of proposed actions before they can be put into effect.

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