GOP Budget Hawks Peck at Endangered Species Regulations

Article excerpt

CONSERVATIVE lawmakers on Capitol Hill are vigorously attempting to revamp environmental policy through the budget process, and nowhere is this more evident than with the Endangered Species Act.

Critics of the controversial law are cutting deeply into spending for scientific research that is at the heart of governmental efforts to prevent extinction. They're also limiting federal funds to acquire or manage land valued as habitat for endangered species. In addition, appropriations bills include provisions that ban listing additional species as "endangered" or "threatened."

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt calls it "a sneak attack," and environmentalists are hopping mad at the apparent attempt to weaken the law while avoiding the politically risky business of overtly gutting it.

"They know their attacks against wildlife will not survive public scrutiny for long, so they are trying to rush legislation through the back door," says William Snape, legal counsel for the Defenders of Wildlife in Washington.

But supporters of the budget cutting say it reins in a bureaucratic behemoth that has proved to be what policy analyst Ike Sugg of the Competitive Enterprise Institute calls "a failure for wildlife and a disaster for people."

Early in this congressional term, the Senate Republican Regulatory Relief Task Force put the Endangered Species Act (ESA) at the top of its "Top Ten Worst-Case Regulations."

A week ago, the House of Representatives cut 1996 spending for the National Biological Service by 30 percent. The House also transferred the rest of this Interior Department agency to other government programs, breaking up the group of federal scientists surveying ecosystems around the country.

Lawmakers in the House also wiped out National Park Service funds to manage a new desert preserve in California, home to several endangered species. They cut $184 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, used to purchase endangered-species habitat. And in both the House and Senate, there have been moves to restrict Environmental Protection Agency spending for the safeguarding of wetlands.

Critics of the National Biological Service see it as an intrusive, big-brother effort to snoop around private property, where most endangered plant and animal species are found. …