Politics of Endangered Species; Science Can't Change the Fact That Environmental Protection Requires Judgment Calls

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Huffman, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Buried in the continuing resolution funding the federal government for the remainder of 2011 is a rider that delists the gray wolf as an endangered species in Montana and Idaho. The rider had bipartisan sponsorship from Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat, and Rep. Michael K. Simpson, Idaho Republican, but the public reaction is anything but bipartisan.

Among environmentalists - and particularly among endangered species advocates - there is outrage that Congress had the temerity to poke this small hole in the Endangered Species Act. How dare Congress inject politics into what is meant to be a purely scientific determination? And even worse, Congress overrode the order of a federal judge and then had the gall to insulate its action from further judicial review. According to an editorial in the New York Times on Friday, all of this constitutes inappropriate meddling by Congress.

Now that's an interesting objection. By effectively amending how the law applies in particular circumstances and overriding the decision of a federal judge, Congress is meddling with the Endangered Species Act? Doesn't Congress make the laws, the executive implement and enforce the laws and the judiciary interpret the laws? By what theory does this constitutional separation of powers preclude Congress from changing its mind or from overriding the interpretations of bureaucrats and judges?

The fear among environmentalists is that other members of Congress will now seek special exemptions for their neighborhood endangered species. Careful inspection of future appropriations bills might reveal delistings of the Barton Springs salamander in Texas, the red-cockaded woodpecker in the Southeast and even the northern spotted owl in the Northwest. In the case of the spotted owl, such congressional overstepping would derail more than two decades of ongoing planning, scientific studies and judicial rulings.

Of course, there is no doubt that Congress has the authority to do what it did. The wolf delisting in Montana and Idaho will withstand environmentalist outrage and editorial hand-wringing. …