Summary of Hearings on the Endangered Species Act (5-14-2007)
- May, 09, 2007: House Natural Resources
Committee hearing on "Endangered Species Act implementation:
Science or Politics?"
Natural Resources Committee hearing on "Endangered Species
Act implementation: Science or Politics?"
May 09, 2007
The Honorable P. Lynn Scarlett, Deputy Secretary, Department of the
Ms. Jamie Rappaport Clark, Executive Vice President, Defenders of
Dr. Francesca Grifo, Ph.D., Senior Scientist and Director of Scientific
Integrity Program, Union of Concerned Scientists
Mr. Jeff Ruch, Executive Director, Public Employees for Environmental
Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, Ph.D., Executive Director, National Center
for Conservation Science & Policy
Ms. Judith Rodd, Director, Friends of Blackwater
Mr. John Young, Retired Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Mr. William P. Horn, Birch, Horton, Bittner, & Cherot
Dr. Matthew Cronin, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Palmer Research
On May 9, 2007, the House Natural Resources Committee convened to
discuss the implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The
original ESA is part of U.S. Code, Title 16, Chapter 35. It was passed
by Congress in 1973, and is intended to not only protect endangered
species, but also "the ecosystems on which they depend."
The Senate and House are both currently working on ESA Reform acts
(S. 658 and H.R. 1422, respectively), although neither was mentioned
at the hearing. The conflict between protecting endangered wildlife
and promoting economic development was discussed, at times contentiously.
Committee Chair Nick Rahall (D-WV) voiced his enthusiasm for continuing
to protect endangered species as well as his distaste for the current
administration's practices. He stated his belief that the Bush administration,
for all of its talk of a "culture of life," shows "flagrant
lack of regard for the work of the Creator's hand," and went
as far as to say the administration shows a "sad and irresponsible
mission to undercut endangered species." He posed the challenge
of implementing the ESA "enlightened by science," rather
than "entangled in politics." Similarly, Representative
Peter DeFazio (D-OR), expressed his opinion that the current administration
is "basically repeating everything done by the Bush I administration
in an attempt to provide favors to industry."
Ranking member Don Young (R-AK) raised concerns about the ESA impeding
economic development. He mentioned that he voted for the original
ESA, which he described as "the worst vote [he] ever made, because
we were misled." He expressed regret that the ESA has stood in
the way of human development and prevented domestic oil production
which could lesson dependence on foreign oil. "Let us not forget
the human factor," he said, implying that protection of polar
bears and beluga whales in Alaska has hurt human quality of life,
with "no science, no study" behind the protections. Representative
William Sali (R-ID) described the ESA as a "weapon to stop or
limit development in this country." He noted enforcement of the
law has hurt the economy and infringed on personal property rights.
Jamie Clark, of Defenders of Wildlife, noted the damage done by political
appointees who "undermine the scientific integrity" of various
government programs. "No one is arguing that science alone should
dictate policy," she surmised, "but science is the foundation
upon which policy depends." She commented that state and local
governments are being forced to carry more of the burden of implementation
of the ESA, but are ill-equipped to do so. Dr. Grifo, a biologist
and Director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned
Scientists, also commented that the pressure to alter scientific reports
for political purposes is pervasive. She suggested increasing transparency
within government programs, to "expose manipulation of science."
Similarly, Jeff Ruch, the Executive Director of Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility, argued that "political manipulation
is now widely corrupting ESA science."
When asked about science manipulation, Lynn Scarlett, the Deputy Secretary
of the Department of the Interior, answered, "we do not promote
suppression of scientific information." Lynn faced harsh criticism
from several Representatives for her handling of the scandal involving
Julie MacDonald. MacDonald was appointed by President Bush in 2002
as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks
at the Department of the Interior, but resigned on May 1, 2007, after
the Union for Concerned Scientists claimed that she "personally
reversed scientific findings, changed scientific conclusions to prevent
endangered species from receiving protection, removed relevant information
from a scientific document, and ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service
to adopt her edits." Much of the hearing focused on ethical concerns
in the wake of the MacDonald scandal.
George Miller (D-CA) asked about MacDonald's alleged land ownership
in the Sacramento Valley that may have led her to tell scientist to
reduce the reported nesting range of an endangered bird from 2.1 miles
to 1.8 miles, and whether Scarlett had looked through other decisions
MacDonald had made to ensure accuracy. Scarlett responded that she
has "not reviewed [MacDonald's] decisions," and "where
there is evidence of science manipulation, we want to correct that."
Miller showed great concern, voicing his belief that "this is
a serious, serious ethical and legal problem for the department."
Lynn reassured Congressman Miller that MacDonald strived to do good
reviewing, but Miller was unconvinced by her reassurances.
Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) also expressed deep concern for
the MacDonald scandal, as it involved land in his district. He noted
that mapped recovery areas for the northern spotted owl were eliminated
under MacDonald, based on manipulated scientific data. Addressing
Scarlett, he said, "under your leadership we have gotten negligence
a fish rots from its head." After being left dissatisfied with
her answers, Inslee called for Scarlett's resignation.
Representative Sali questioned Grifo about a scientifically acceptable
rate at which species should be allowed to become extinct, pointing
out that fossil records show that a large number of species have become
extinct. Grifo explained that past rates of extinction have occurred
on "geologic time scales," at a much slower rate than current
extinctions. She cited human involvement including habitat destruction
as reasons for the high rate of extinction.
Representative Steve Pearce (R-NM) mentioned a wolf program that
has been causing problems for livestock. Many of these wolves were
being moved from populated areas of Arizona, and re-introduced into
New Mexico. He suggested releasing these wolves in New York City's
Central Park or on the Mall in Washington, DC. He also warned that
scientists can change data in order to support their political purposes,
citing data fixing by a group of scientists working on lynx habitats.
Doug Lamborn (R-CO) also raised concerns about the impression that
science never varies, stating that scientists could manipulate data
just as easily as politicians could. He asked Dr. Grifo if several
different scientists could look at the same data set and come up with
different conclusions. Grifo responded affirmatively, but indicated
that this was the purpose of peer review and scientific meetings.
Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) mentioned a recent memo from the
Department of the Interior that states anyone approved for travel
from the Fish and Wildlife Service was not to talk about polar bear
habitat destruction. Scarlett responded that the memo was simply intended
to say that the topic of a certain meeting was not climate change;
it was not intended to be a gag order. Jeff Ruch showed concern for
this type of gag order, saying "Scientists have almost no legal
protection. They are not whistle blowers; they are not trying to go
on 60 Minutes." Representative Holt noted that "the politicization
of science and the disparaging of scientifically trained staff is
a critical issue." Until guidelines can be put into place by
the Department of the Interior to keep the science pure and the politics
honest, implementation of the Endangered Species Act will continue
to be mired in controversy.
Sources: Hearing testimony.
Contributed by Paul Schramm, 2007 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern
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Last updated on May 14, 2007.