WASHINGTON, Sept. 7 -- A bill to reform the Endangered Species Act was introduced Thursday by a bipartisan group of congressmen seeking to bring 'common sense' into wildlife preservation by balancing economic and environmental interests. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said the proposal would effectively repeal the law. One of the chief sponsors of the legislation is Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif. 'No landowner wants to endanger species,' he said. 'We're just trying in inject some common sense.' Another sponsor, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said, 'We must do a better job of managing our wildlife to keep them from reaching 'threatened' or 'endangered' status.' Young said the current act has not saved one species in 22 years. The proposal would require compensation for the lost use of private property, establish biodiversity reserves on some public lands to provide critical habitat for threatened species and give private landowners incentives to help preserve habitat. The bill would also reform the way species are listed or removed from protected status and give states more responsibility to implement the act. The bill would repeal the Supreme Court's Sweet Home decision, which banned the destruction of privately owned habitat of endangered species. The bill would also remove restrictions on the incidental killing of non-fish species, such as whales and turtles, in the territorial waters of the United States. 'We now have a situation where the needs of blue-eyed salamanders and blind spiders take precedence over the needs of American families,' said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.
The proposal was embraced by a chorus of business, labor and property-rights groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition and the National Association of Home Builders. 'This bill is good for both species and people,' said Endangered Species Coordinating Council, which represents mining, forestry, manufacturing, fishing and agriculture companies and unions. 'People have not been part of the ESA equation,' said Bill Hubbell, president of the Woodworkers Division of the Machinists and Aerospace Workers union. 'If we do not refine the ESA, the next listing will be the American timber-dependent worker.' On the other hand, many environmental groups immediately denounced the proposal. 'We already know this bill would spell extinction for grizzlies and gray wolves,' said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. 'This bill is very similar to legislation that was introduced by Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) and we know for a fact that his bill was drafted by industry groups,' Pope said. 'This bill is an industry wish list,' Pope said. Legislation doesn't get much worse than this,' said Jon Roush, president of the Wilderness Society. 'What the sponsors have cooked up is the equivalent of book burning.' The Humane Society of America said the bill would remove protections for endangered animals and plants imported into the United States. 'This bill ignores the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and other scientists and strips away basic protections for endangered species' habitat,' said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. Babbitt said if Noah had operated under the Pombo-Young rules, 'he wouldn't have needed an ark. He could have fit all the animals he was allowed to save in a canoe.'