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Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.) says now he wants to take it on bit by bit.

"I think it's just a lot easier and a lot more practical to break it down," said Pombo, chairman of the House Resources Committee.

His new approach worries environmentalists, who say the 30-year-old law never has been in more jeopardy.

"It's the death-of-a-thousand-cuts approach," said Bart Semcer, a fish and wildlife policy specialist for the Sierra Club. "They know that they can't win by adopting a wholesale approach to attacking the Endangered Species Act, so they're launching sneak attacks, small pieces of legislation that they're hoping the public won't notice in order to undermine the law."

Pombo, who contends environmental regulations too often infringe on the rights of farmers and homeowners, said the endangered species law produces more lawsuits and property disputes than it provides protection for wildlife. It is a point he has argued since he was handed the task of rewriting the law in 1995.

That effort never made it to the House floor. Subsequent attempts also went nowhere.

Pombo was tapped last year over more senior Republicans to chair the Resources Committee. After spending most of his first year in the job on other initiatives such as the new timber-cutting law, he is ready to return his focus to endangered species.

"We've been arguing over this for 10 years and haven't made any progress whatsoever. So I think that it's worth a shot," Pombo said.

Most Democrats are just as determined to protect the law. "That's going to be a big test, there's no question about it," said Rep. Nick J. Rahall II (W.Va.), the committee's senior Democrat.

Rahall said he hopes moderate Republicans will join him, too. "I think we can build an effective coalition that will block any wholesale revamping of the law itself," Rahall said. The Endangered Species Act requires the government to use "the best scientific and commercial data available" in choosing animals and plants to list. Listed species are supposed to be protected from potentially harmful activities. More than 1,200 plants and animals are listed as threatened or endangered. Pombo said his first focus will be to add what he and the law's critics call "sound science" provisions. He says the requirement for the best available data is too vague; he wants the law to demand empirical or peer-reviewed standards.

Next, he wants to tackle how critical habitats are designated.

One by one, Pombo's critics maintain, the elements add up to changing the entire Endangered Species Act.

"For Richard Pombo, it's about grinding things to a halt," said Betsy Loyless, vice president for policy of the League of Conservation Voters. "And that's a harder process for environmentalists to point to."





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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