Cattle rancher, dairy farmer and Chairman of the House Resources Committee, 42-year-old Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) recently accomplished one of the top priorities of the nation’s resource extraction industries. On September 29, Pombo, along with co-sponsor Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) and considerable help from Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), was able to push a gutting of the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA) called the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act (TESRA) through the House on a 229-193 vote.
Here is what TESRA accomplishes:
* Full compensation for “takings” which has often meant merely denying landowners the ability to pollute or threaten species. Under TESRA, any disputes over value of such “takings” “are to be resolved in the favor of the property owner” (Of course, if a government entity actually does take your property to build a Wal-Mart or some other economic development scheme, as allowed by the recent Supreme Court Kelo v. New London decision, no such resolution in favor of the homeowner is available.)
* No more Critical Habitat designations. Instead, calling habitat designation “irrelevant to recovery,” Pombo gained a switch to required “recovery plans” when a species is listed as threatened or endangered;
* Much more power will be vested in the states in determining such “Recovery Plans”;
* “No surprises protection.” Property owners are protected against any future changes to “Recovery Plans” forever, no matter what changed conditions may require;
* Invasive Species (a huge problem with cattle ranching) are not addressed at all.
Clearly the ESA has not been working. Out of almost 1300 species listed, only 10 have recovered and been de-listed. Obviously, with a less than 1% recovery rate, the protection provisions have not been tough enough! Yet, Pombo has achieved this extraction wet dream of lessening those meager protections, while selling it as protection for private property owners.
Rep. Dennis Cardoza notes: “I am confident that this bi-partisan bill will strengthen the ability of ESA to recover species, while reducing the burden on local economies and landowners.”
TESRA supporter Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) adds: “Passing the new legislation will remove burdens that have hampered job creation, community development and other improvements for the Inland Empire.”
However, when one looks past the veneer of property rights, economic development and, of course, species recovery (wink, wink), it doesn’t take much to find corporate fingerprints all over TESRA.
Industry’s main ally in this is something called the International Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources (IFCNR). This Mother of all Astroturf groups claims in its website that “IFCNR takes a holistic view of protecting wildlife and wild places that includes preserving human cultures. Conservation & preservation of wild resources requires a measured degree of sustainable use.” (“Holistic” and “Sustainable” now top of the list of weasel words that mean, well, just about whatever one wants them to mean.)
The shadowy foundation, complete with phantom directors, and Pombo have recently been the subject of an expose conducted by the Center for Public Integrity and Marketplace Radio.
These groups found that Pombo broke the law when he accepted overseas trips paid for by IFCNR. Pombo took at least two trips costing more than $23,000 paid for by IFNCR, in clear violation of tax laws. Neither Pombo nor IFNCR paid taxes on the trips. In fact, IFNCR even indicated on all of its 2000 2004 tax forms that it did not “provide a grant to an individual for travel, study, or other similar purposes.”
While taking the 2000 trip to Nelson, New Zealand and a 2002 one to Shimonoseki, Japan, Pombo also was serving as the chairman of a subsidiary of IFCNR called the Sustainable Use Parliamentarians Union (SUPU).
“I really have no idea what is going on with that foundation. Obviously I will have my accountant check into this,” the disingenuous Pombo told the Center for Public Integrity.
Just so Mr. Pombo’s informed of “what is going on,” the Center for Public Integrity thoughtfully provides this list of donors to IFNCR.
The lowlights are topped by the Darden Restaurant chain, which is the parent company of Red Lobster and Olive Garden. Darden contributed over a third of the foundation’s total support this millennium — a total of $574,000.
It all started when the Humane Society angered Darden by launching an effort to get snow crab dropped from the firm’s menu as snow crabs being eaten by seals rather than American diners has been a justification for continued Canadian seal hunts.
Humane Society executive vice president for external affairs Michael Markarian said, “As far as we can tell, they are committed to coming out against any sort of humane treatment of animals. They are for commercial whaling. They are for trapping. They include cock fighters as a resource management group.”
Other top contributors since 2000 are Monsanto ($115,000); the National Trappers Association ($143,890); the International Fur Trade Association ($120,000) Caspian Star Caviar ($25,000) and the Japan Whaling Association ($11,000). (Now there’s a pack of “holistic and sustainable” industries.)
Marketplace’s Steve Henn talked with IFNCR president emeritus Stephen Boynton about the illegal trips. Boynton claimed, “I talked to the House Committee on Ethics and they told me at that time-and so did Congressman Pombo-that was not a problem. I acted on that advice.”
Pombo claims he has not even spoken with anyone from IFCNR or the Sustainable Use Parliamentarians Union for over four years, even though he was SUPU chairman until July of last year.
He also claims to have no plans to contact the groups again, even with the new info and law-breaking. “I really don’t have any reason to talk to them on anything right now,” said Pombo.
Really? That may be, Mr. Chairman. But, perhaps your attorney should give them a call.
MICHAEL DONNELLY of Salem, OR has fought long for Endangered Species protection. He’s never eaten a snow crab.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org