Yesterday, Susan “Puffy” Combs, the Texas Comptroller For Public Accounts, released a statement which congratulated herself for saving the oil and gas industry from the ravages of the tiny Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, which was not listed as an endangered species by the US Fish And Wildlife Service last week after years of consideration. Instead, a compromise was reached between FWS scientists and landowners in West Texas and New Mexico which will set aside about 650,000 acres of the lizard’s habitat on privately held lands, while allowing landowners to continue ranching cattle, or drilling for oil and gas on their property.
Now, Combs wants to go one step further and rewrite the Endangered Species Act of 1973 in Texas’s image: eliminate regulatory oversight, expedite any and all land development.
While 73% of the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard’s habitat is in New Mexico, Texas politicians like Combs and our soon-to-be senior Senator, John Cornyn, have been the most vocal in claiming credit for protect our fragile energy industry from the lizard’s vile grasp. In a statement, Cornyn said “the Administration no doubt saw firsthand the real, dire consequences that listing this species would have had for Texans and our nation's energy production.”
In her statement, Combs cited the “Combs-led Texas Conservation Plan (PDF)” as the “major reason the dunes sagebrush lizard did not warrant listing as a threatened or endangered species.” In speaking to Reuters, she said, “this is a major victory for Texas jobs and the nation’s energy economy.”
The Center For Biological Diversity, a leading environmental group, produced an analysis of Combs’s Texas Plan, calling it “unlikely to be effective because it lacks definite funding, is voluntary and prescribes vague measures lacking accountability.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Regional Director, Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, provided a much more reasoned explanation for the conservation agreement in this discussion with StateImpact Texas. Hopefully, the agreements reached between a whole range of interests in Texas, New Mexico, and the FWS can protect this unique species while limiting the minor impact to the Texas economy the potential listing would have had (the lizard inhabits about 1% of the oil rich Permian Basin).
Combs’s new crusade is to rework the Endangered Species Act itself. The ESA has been an instrumental tool in resuscitating such species as the Bald Eagle, the Grizzly Bear, the California Sea Otter, and Texas’s own Whooping Cranes. Combs, however, testified to a congressional hearing entitled “Taxpayer-Funded Litigation: Benefitting Lawyers and Harming Species, Jobs and Schools,” that “excessive ESA litigation can increase regulatory uncertainty for many entities such as private landowners and businesses.” She recommended measures to quickly de-list species from endangered status and stated that “the proper application of scientific principles will inform decisions and minimize the risk of unwarranted ESA regulatory burdens and inefficient use of resources.” How is the chief tax assessor for the State of Texas is an expert witness on “the proper application of scientific principles?” I do not know.