August 22, 2013

The Endangered Species Act Turns 40

A Statement by Rob Rivett, President, Pacific Legal Foundation

This year the Endangered Species Act turns 40. President Richard Nixon, on December 28, 1973, signed into law one of the nation’s most powerful environmental laws.  The law vested authority in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to enforce a wave of new regulations, and create a new relationship between homo sapiens and other species.
Soon after its passage, the U.S. Supreme Court declared it the most comprehensive law ever passed for the protection of species and that ESA enforcement must occur “whatever the cost.”  Federal officials have used their power under the Act to regulate private property as if it were public land.
The degree to which the ESA has been successful is a matter of debate.  Of the estimated $3 billion of taxpayer funds necessary to fund the annual operation of the ESA, less than 1 percent of the species in North America have been recovered out of more than 1,400 that have been listed.  One undebatable fact is the law has created a flood of lawsuits, those filed to seek government acts, and those filed to limit them.
Since its founding in 1973 — the same year the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted — Pacific Legal Foundation has been America’s watchdog in the courts to check and reverse government abuse of this and other environmental laws.
PLF has enough experience with the ESA to know that a well-intentioned law can completely turn the tables on common sense, sound science, and the fundamental freedoms of people.  PLF believes in responsible stewardship of our land, water, and air for the benefit of people, the environment, and the species that inhabit it.  The trouble comes when a law designed to help species harms the people who care for the environment — including farmers, ranchers, and foresters — those living and working in America’s “environment.”
The protection of the environment is only one of many competing and important social values in America.  In an orderly society, no single value can be exalted “whatever the cost.”  Environmental laws can and must be administered so as to safeguard, and not thwart, fundamental human needs and rights.  Therefore, Pacific Legal Foundation has assumed a leading role in protecting constitutionally established limits on governmental power and ensuring individual freedom.
Nearly 40 years after its enactment, the Federal Endangered Species Act remains one of the nation’s most potent threats to our constitutionally protected property rights.  Crafted by the Congress with the noble goal of saving species from extinction, and helping them to return to health, the law today has led to controversy and regulatory creep across our nation’s landscape.
Because Pacific Legal Foundation supports a balanced approach to environmental regulations — like the ESA, we’re taking the opportunity in 2013 to examine aspects of the law, with particular emphasis on past and current cases we’ve litigated.
During the course of the year, this landing page will feature PLF opinion articles, videos, podcasts, and news and information about current PLF cases.

Whether you are part of the “regulated community” or just a concerned citizen who values liberty and a thriving environment, I invite you to check in regularly on this page to see our latest postings and to give us your feedback.
Of course, as a nonprofit legal charity, Pacific Legal Foundation welcomes your charitable donations.
If you believe, as we do, that in protecting our nation’s environment, our constitutional rights should not be threatened or endangered by government agencies and activist groups, I invite you to become a supporter of PLF’s legal program.