Green Termites

Under the surface and out of the spotlight, green termites are busily chewing away at the foundations of our capitalist economy. Environmental activists have flooded the system with mass petitions for endangered species listing, as reported by the Washington Times last week:

When WildEarth Guardians filed two petitions in the space of a month to list 681 species under the Endangered Species Act, it came as a shock to biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  

Organizations normally seek protection for just one animal or plant at a time. The Center for Native Ecosystems, another group active in petitioning under the Endangered Species Act, has filed requests involving 27 species over the last 10 years.  So the filing of nearly 700 offerings at once struck federal officials as excessive. The Endangered Species Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to make and publish specific findings for petitioned species within 90 days, to the extent practicable.

In June 2007, a petition was filed with Fish and Wildlife's New Mexico office to review 475 species, and in July 2007, a separate petition was filed with the Denver office to review 206 species.  The petition for each species must be researched and reviewed, requiring enormous amounts of time and resources for mass applications.  Last month, 29 of the 206 applications were approved for further review and comment, while the other 475 applications were still under review.  The groups submitting mass petitions argue that too many species have slipped through the cracks, while federal biologists counter that mass petitions were not what congress had in mind, and that excessive petitions divert resources from those species that really do need help.

The power of the Endangered Species Act to inflict economic damage is illustrated by a recent Wall Street Journal editorial that focuses on the devastation to the San Joaquin Valley farm economy caused by the endangered species listing of the delta smelt:

California has a new endangered species on its hands in the San Joaquin Valley -- farmers. Thanks to environmental regulations designed to protect the likes of the three-inch long delta smelt, one of America's premier agricultural regions is suffering in a drought made worse by federal regulations...

As a result, tens of billions of gallons of water from mountains east and north of Sacramento have been channeled away from farmers and into the ocean, leaving hundreds of thousands of acres of arable land fallow or scorched. For this, Californians can thank the usual environmental suspects, er, lawyers.  Last year's government ruling was the result of a 2006 lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other outfits objecting to increased water pumping in the smelt vicinity. 

After the snail darter held up construction of a dam in Tennessee two decades ago, the Endangered Species Act was amended to allow special intervention in the event of economic hardship, and Governor Schwarzenegger last week asked the Obama administration to intervene in the delta smelt case, in the face of an area jobless rate over 14%.  The answer from Washington:

In a letter dated Thursday and obtained Friday, two of Obama's cabinet secretaries scolded Schwarzenegger for blaming federal permits that were written under court order for the state's water problems this year.  Dry weather has cost water users more than three times as much water as new permit conditions, which were written under court orders that, in turn, were issued because of the collapse of imperiled fish, the letter noted.  

"They just don't get it," Schwarzenegger press secretary Aaron McLear said in a statement. "The federal government is keeping 1.5 million acre feet of water from Californians. That water would put a lot of people to work right now."

A committee is working to form a compromise to attempt to stabilize the water system.  The bottom line from the green overlords, however, is they will not concede defeat on saving the smelt, and don't blame them if you are out of water.  As the Journal points out, what about the thousands of farm owners and employees whose livelihoods are at stake?

The Endangered Species Act and related legal actions can be used to shut down federal projects and private industry projects, and often result in the value being stripped from private lands due to the presence of an endangered species.  The problem is ongoing, as indicated by a 2003 Wall Street Journal column that described the Act as the "pit bull" of environmental laws. 

President Obama earlier this year restored a requirement, previously removed by President Bush, to require all federal agencies to consult with independent, federal experts to determine if their actions might harm threatened or endangered species.  As one would expect, this ruling and the recent delta smelt ruling indicate that the Obama administration has re-sharpened the teeth in the Endangered Species Act, compounding the danger posed by mass petitions.

When asked if petitions to list hundreds of endangered species at a time could become a trend, a Fish and Wildlife biologist responded:

"We're very concerned," Ms. Carlson said. "I'm not sure what they're thinking, but we've tried to convince them this is not a productive way to get species listed."

Perhaps the Cloward-Piven strategy comes into play here -- "overthrow capitalism by overwhelming the government bureaucracy with entitlement demands."  Overwhelm the Fish and Wildlife Service with mass petitions for endangered species listings, far beyond both the original intent of the law and the capacity of the system.

The temporary presence of a Van Jones in the White House reminds us that the Obama green jobs movement includes the transformation to a place that most of us never asked to visit:

"We want to go beyond the systems of exploitation and oppression altogether... So the green economy will start off as a small subset and we are going to push it and push it and push it until it becomes the engine for transforming the whole society."

If one endangered species can shut down the economy of one of America's premier agricultural regions, just think what 681 more endangered species could do.