The federal Endangered Species Act has become a tool for litigation that has little to do with recovering species but much to do with collecting taxpayer-financed attorney fees, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., told the Family Farm Alliance.
"Even Jamie Clark, President Bill Clinton's Fish and Wildlife Service director, said ESA litigation has become an industry," Hastings said.
Hastings delivered the keynote address at the Family Farm Alliance's 25th annual meeting at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev., Feb. 22.
The alliance, based in Klamath Falls, Ore., is an advocate for family farmers, ranchers, irrigation districts and allied industries in 17 western states. Alliance President Pat O'Toole, a Savery, Wyo., rancher, presented Hastings with the Water Warrior Award and thanked him for his support of irrigated agriculture in the West.
Certain environmental groups have exploited unworkable deadlines in the ESA statute to file endless lawsuits, Hastings said. It led to a mega-settlement in which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Center for Biological Diversity and Wildearth Guardians met behind closed doors and settled potential listings of 779 species in 85 lawsuits and legal actions, he said.
"Not only will this settlement lead to even more attorneys' fees being paid to the litigants, but it will force the federal agency to rush potential listings that will certainly leave gaping hoes in the science to justify such listings," Hastings said.
The lesser prairie chicken in Texas and four other states and the greater sage grouse in many western states are candidates for listings that could restrict grazing, farming, mining and other energy production on tens of millions of acres in the interior West, he said.
The House Natural Resources Committee will focus on the ESA, protecting and promoting hydropower and water storage and fighting federal regulations that could cost jobs and raise electricity costs, he said.
The EPA is threatening to force Clean Air Act improvements on the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in Page, Ariz., that would drive up water costs, he said.
-- Dan Wheat