Tuesday, January 13, 2015
GM food: time to devour the benefits
GM food doesn't need labelling; it needs celebrating
One of spiked’s people of the year for 2014 was Kenya’s Florence Wambugu, a pioneering and tireless supporter of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and biotechnology in food production in the developing world. Sadly, support for GMOs is singularly lacking in the developed world.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the battle currently being waged over GMOs in a courthouse in the US state of Vermont. In this case, federal judge Christina Reiss is deciding whether or not to dismiss the state’s mandatory labelling laws for GM food, which are due to be introduced in 2016. The first question she must consider is whether consumers should be made aware that the food they are eating ‘may be produced with genetic engineering’.
Labelling advocates say it is necessary to provide information, but this is disingenuous. The underlying goal of this legislation is to cast ‘evil’ GM foods aside in favour of ‘natural’ products. If the labelling law goes ahead, it would amount to the stamping of GM-food packaging with a suggestive warning label. It would imply that GM foods are unsafe.
Under the proposed law, producers and manufacturers of GM foods won’t be able to label their food as ‘natural’. But what is a ‘natural’ food? As Reiss wryly observed, ‘I can’t imagine any food that doesn’t have human intervention’. Reiss is right, but the notion that ‘natural’ is somehow better is ubiquitous today. Like the anti-vaccine movement, the anti-GM movement seeks to gain support by claiming that foods are ‘unnatural’ when what they really mean is ‘manmade’.
And they are correct; GM foods are ‘unnatural’. But this is precisely why we should be praising them as triumphs. No matter how much ‘nature’ goes in to developing a new strain of disease-resistant cocoa bean, a nutritionally beneficial Golden rice or a new ebola vaccine, we rely on complicated science, thousands of hours of advanced research and sheer human inquisitiveness to come up with a viable solution. Mother Nature is just not cutting it in the twenty-first century.
In keeping with the ever-more-cautious outlook of our time, the anti-GM movement has gained in strength in the US. It appears to be on the cusp of joining the increasing list of new ‘liberal’ orthodoxies. If you believe the claims of The Letter From America, nearly 60million people have signed an open letter to warn the citizens of the UK and Europe of the dangers of letting GMOs into their communities. Such fearmongering not only seeks to shut down sensible debate, it also rides roughshod over the wishes and needs of the people of the UK, Europe and the developing world. And it ignores the desire of farmers to increase their yields, raise their productivity and improve their livelihoods.
Those calling for us to stop using GMOs until they are proven safe often cite quotes such as this from the British Medical Association: ‘Safety concerns cannot, as yet, be dismissed completely on the basis of information currently available.’ Not exactly a solid statement of anti-GM opposition. If, as the anti-GM movement suggests, we adopt the ‘wait until it is proven 100 per cent safe’ level of precaution in all human pursuits, progress in any field would become near impossible. Never mind that the US Department of Agriculture estimates that 90 per cent of US corn and soy is already produced using GMOs without any noticeable side effects. And Gaia forbid that anyone should dare suggest that it might be worth the risk if it increases crop yields, adds nutritional value or saves some malnourished kids’ lives.
The development of GMOs for our food sources is an amazing and wonderful human achievement. Science doesn’t ‘just happen’, and revolutions in food, agriculture and medicine are not born of a maleficent desire to cause harm on the part of Big Pharma or Big Food. Rather, it is a genuine desire to improve our lives that leads us to develop these meaningful, lifesaving innovations. GMOs can potentially transform our world for the better – and that is something worth devouring.
Vetoing bipartisan energy, job and economic growth
President Obama makes it clear that the only “common ground” he respects is his liberal turf
New Republican members were still being sworn in and expressing their desire for bipartisan initiatives, when President Obama said he would veto the Keystone pipeline, ObamaCare fixes and other bills that run counter to his agenda. Washington’s new “common ground” will be a tricky, dangerous swamp.
Meanwhile, U.S. crude oil prices are below $50 per barrel, for the first time since 2009, and natural gas has dropped below $3 per million Btu (or thousand cubic feet). That’s bad news for Iran, Russia, Venezuela and ISIS, but great news for energy users. Motorists will save billions of dollars in gasoline costs; families, factories, hospitals, schools and malls will save billions on heating and electricity bills; and industries that are energy-intensive or use hydrocarbons as raw materials will reap huge benefits.
However, drilling and oilfield service companies are being squeezed by high production rates, low prices and excessive loans; some overcapitalized companies may go bankrupt. Slow global economic growth is reducing demand for American goods and services, and investors are pulling out of “emerging markets.”
Thankfully, most fracking companies are agile and creative. Their technological innovations have driven completion and production costs steadily downward, allowing them to produce oil, gas liquids and natural gas (methane) from many formations at costs low enough to make a profit even at today’s prices (or lower). When demand picks up and prices again rise, companies can drill and frack new wells or reopen old ones in shale regions within mere weeks, to meet increasing energy needs.
But now EPA is proposing new rules for conventional and fracked wells. The White House claims the rules are needed to reduce emissions of methane, which it calls a “potent greenhouse gas” that contributes to “dangerous climate change.” The real goal is to put federal bureaucrats in charge of fracking and production on state and private lands, now that they have made most federal lands off limits to drilling.
The proposed rulemaking ignores reality. Total U.S. methane emissions have already plunged 11% since 1990, and companies constantly implement technologies and procedures to reduce emissions of valuable natural gas from wells and pipelines. That has caused emissions related to drilling and transportation to plummet, even as natural gas drilling, fracking, production, pipelining and use have skyrocketed.
Mr. Obama’s fossil fuel obstructionism will further harm blue-collar families. His own State Department concluded that the Keystone XL pipeline project alone would create 50,000 jobs: 10,000 in construction; 16,000 providing pipe, valves, heavy equipment, hotel rooms and other goods and services directly related to the project; and 26,000 “indirect” jobs supported by primary and secondary workers spending their KXL wages in other sectors of the economy. Some 70% of Americans support building it.
These jobs may only be what the President derisively calls “temporary.” But that is the nature of all such jobs. You just need a steady stream of new projects to keep construction and factory workers employed for decades – versus the “permanent” jobs the President seems to prefer: for bureaucrats who stifle other job creation or decree that only “renewable energy” jobs merit creation via taxpayer or borrowed money.
Blocking Keystone will also increase shipments of U.S. and Canadian oil via RR cars owned by Mr. Obama’s friend, Warren Buffet. That could mean more rail accidents and deaths. Proposed rules for retrofitting rail tankers for crash and puncture resistance will take years to implement, forcing oil to be shipped in trucks on our crowded highways in the meantime. Congress needs to approve Keystone.
The President may now favor allowing some processed U.S. oil to be exported. But his agencies are preparing numerous new rules that will undermine bipartisan energy, job and economic growth initiatives. The Competitive Enterprise Institute says they are considering 2,375 new rules this year – on top of 3,541 regulations approved in 2014. The total price tag for complying with federal rules: $1.9 trillion per year!
EPA has delayed its latest climate change regulations until summer, but they will likely require that coal-fueled power plants slash carbon dioxide emissions by 30% or close down. Since no affordable or proven technology exists to achieve this, the rule will shutter numerous power plants and cost some 600,000 jobs in states that rely on coal for reliable, affordable electricity. Moreover, as my Climate Hype Exposed report makes clear, the rules will do absolutely nothing to “stabilize” Earth’s always fickle climate.
President Obama’s determination to lock the United States and other countries into a binding new climate change treaty will magnify the damage many times over. First, developing nations like China and India must merely agree to try at some future date to make some efforts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Other countries can walk away from treaty obligations that become too burdensome. That will penalize the United States as almost the only nation required to abide by its suicidal climate agreements.
Second, few (formerly) rich countries will ever honor their supposed commitments to provide billions of dollars a year for climate change “adaptation” and “mitigation” – and those contributions will never come anywhere near the $100 billion per year that poor developing countries are demanding as their price for signing a treaty. Third, most of this money will end up in Swiss bank accounts of kleptocratic African, UN and other dictators, bureaucrats, politicians, activists and corporatists. The poor will get nothing.
Fourth, most of this promised aid – as well as OPIC, World Bank and other loans and grants – comes with the proviso that the money be used only for wind, solar and biofuel projects. Poor countries will be prevented from building coal or gas power plants to lift billions out of poverty via reliable, affordable electricity. Billions of people will remain trapped in poverty, misery, disease and early death – with improved education, healthcare, jobs, food, clean water and sanitation remaining largely out of reach.
What can the new Republican Congress do in the face of the President’s ideological intransigence?
* Pass Keystone pipeline legislation and bills promoting expanded leasing and drilling on federal lands.
* End abuses detailed in the Senate Staff Report, Chains of Environmental Command, and other studies that reveal how Big Green colludes with federal agencies to impose job-killing policies and regulations. Hold hearings and question agency heads under oath. Root out collusion between agencies and activists, sweetheart sue-and-settle lawsuits, and other agency misconduct, deceit and fraud in devising regulations. Apply the same ethics and integrity rules to them that they impose on us.
* Employ budget reductions, budget restrictions and specific legislative language to: block regulations that do not pass Information Quality Act standards of transparency, integrity and scientific analysis; end payoffs to advisory panels and pressure groups; and prohibit EPA from expanding its mission and personnel by launching sustainable development, “environmental justice” and climate programs.
* Require that EPA and other agencies fully and honestly assess the potentially harmful effects that their regulations are likely to have on jobs and human health and well-being – and subject proposed rulemakings to review by industry and other independent outside experts – before rules can be implemented. Alleged benefits of rules must clearly exceed their monetary, job, health and welfare costs.
* Require congressional approval of any “major” regulatory actions likely to cost $100 million or more – and periodic assessments of the cumulative costs of all federal regulations.
* Prohibit the Executive Branch from spending taxpayer funds on climate change “adaptation/mitigation” payments to developing countries, until all other countries make binding pledges and we have proof of manmade climate change. Ban requirements that grants be used solely for renewable energy projects.
* Use vetoes and Democratic obstinacy to underscore the need for more pro-growth and environmental-balance candidates in 2016 congressional and presidential elections – by showing leadership and responsible alternatives to eight years of Reid, Pelosi and Obama obstruction and job destruction.
State governors, legislatures, courts and AGs should do likewise – and voters should demand nothing less.
How Many Of World's Poor Will Climate Alarmists Let Die?
'How many people do you want to kill or let die?" That's how I'm going to respond from now on to anyone who argues we should end or sharply restrict fossil fuel use to prevent global warming.
Arguing the science has no effect on global warming alarmists. They are immune to facts and stick to models and fallacious arguments from biased, unscientific authorities.
Climate models say temperatures should climb right along with the rise in CO2 emissions, yet emissions rose from the 1940s through the 1970s, when scientists were warning of a coming ice age. And for the past two decades, CO2 emissions have continued to rise while temperatures have been in a holding pattern for the past 18 years.
Models say we should see more intense hurricanes, yet for nearly a decade the U.S. has experienced below-average hurricanes making landfall, and they have been no more powerful than previously experienced.
Sea-level rise has slowed, polar bear numbers have increased, the Antarctic ice sheet has set new records for expansion month after month and even the Arctic is back to average ice levels for the decade.
None of these trends is consistent with models' predictions, yet alarmists ignore the facts because controlling human lives is their underlying goal, and their failed models are the only thing that enables them to claim disaster is in the offing if humans don't change their ways.
Arguing economics is equally ineffective. Multiple analyses show the best economic response to the challenges posed by global warming is to use fossil fuels to grow peoples' wealth globally and adapt to climate changes as they come — basically doing what humans have done throughout history.
In "The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels," author Alex Epstein makes a key point:
"Climate is no longer a major cause of deaths, thanks in large part to fossil fuels. ... The popular climate discussion .. . looks at man as a destructive force for climate livability, one who makes the climate dangerous because we use fossil fuels. In fact, the truth is the exact opposite; we don't take a safe climate and make it dangerous; we take a dangerous climate and make it safe."
Humans have long fought a war with climate, and where we've won it has been through the use of technology, most recently including the use of fossil fuels.
Although there are many distinctions between developed economies and developing ones, a critical difference is the widespread availability and use of fossil fuels to improve living conditions.
Pelamis Wave Power—Another Alternative Energy Bust
by Dr Klaus L.E. Kaiser
If you ever walked along an ocean shore you’ll have seen the constant waves rolling in. wave powerAccording to Wikipedia, the idea to harness that wave energy has been proposed as early as 1799. Over the last 15 years several technologies have been proposed. Among them, the Pelamis wave power system is one of a couple of dozens of ocean wave energy extraction schemes.
As many (or all?) “alternative” energy schemes, they all sound good on paper. In reality, though, they do not live up to the expectations. The Pelamis system, developed and deployed in Scotland, is just one example.
The Pelamis System
The Pelamis system consists of a string of large steel tubes that bob up and down along the wave contour on the ocean surface. The semi-submerged tubes are partially filled with water that sloshes back and forth inside and drives small turbines within the tubes.
The Pelamis Problem
Despite the company’s claims of “Since 1998, the Pelamis development programme has covered all aspects of the design from the fundamental concept refinement through to accelerated cycle testing of individual components for reliability,” there is always a “weak link.” As you can imagine, the constant push and pull by the ocean waves does cause wear and tear on all parts that connect the tubes along the string and tether the leading tube edge to the ocean bottom.
In November 2014 the company essentially declared bankruptcy with a statement by its board that reads “The directors of Pelamis regret to announce that they have been unable to secure the additional funding required for further development of the Company’s market leading wave energy technology. As a result of this the board has reluctantly moved to appoint an administrator to assess the options for securing the future for the business and employees of Pelamis….”
Obviously, the claim that “Pelamis is the world’s most advanced wave energy technology and company” does not guarantee any reliable, sustained, and competitive alternative energy generation. Of course, these types of problems are common to all floating ocean wave power generator schemes. In order to avoid them, recently engineers became more interested in stationary wave power devices.
Stationary Wave Power Schemes
Stationary Wave Power Schemes use fixed support structures that extract the wave energy with movable parts of one sort or another. The Blue Power Energy Co. has a short video with some design principles. When watching it, just remember, they are concepts only. Statements like “The concept involves converting the linear heaving motion of a wave energy buoy into rotational kinetic energy using our innovative linear/rotary gear box. The gear box drives a flywheel which then drives a standard Permanent Magnet electric generator” do not harness any energy at all. They just want you to buy into their idea to support the development cost.
Of course, you are always welcome to dream up another ocean wave power generation system next time you hike along the ocean shore. Perhaps you may even be able to persuade a bureaucrat or politician to fund a prototype.
However, when it comes to delivering all the promised energy, more likely than not, it’s going to be just another alternative energy generation bust.
In October 2014, a report appeared that provides additional support to my claim of the preponderance of natural CO2 emissions. That report describes the additional seamounts recently discovered by more detailed mapping of the ocean floor. As a result, the number of such ocean volcanoes and vents quadrupled overnight, from 5,000 to 20,000. Though many of these seamounts sprang up in pre-historic times and may not be showing any current activity whatsoever, a good portion likely does. The sheer number of such newly discovered structures is certainly surprising.
White House Climate Lunacy
By Alan Caruba
As January 2014 arrived with a blast of cold air ominously dubbed the “polar vortex”, the White House released a video in which the Chief Science Advisor to President Obama, Dr. John Holdren, managed to get on both sides of it, declaring the “extreme cold” to be “a pattern that we expect to see with increasing frequency as global warming continues.” How the Earth is getting both colder and warmer at the same time defies reality, but that is of little concern to Dr. Holdren and, indeed, the entire global warming—now called climate change--hoax.
Earlier, in November 2013, the White House made Dr. Holdren available to social media saying he would answer “any questions that you have about climate change…” As noted by Jim Lakely, Communications Director of The Heartland Institute, the invitation welcomed questions “but only if they conform to the notion that human activity is causing a climate crisis, and restricting human activity by government direction can ‘fight it.’” The answers would have to wait “because the White House social media experts are having a hard time sifting through the wreckage of their ill-conceived campaign and finding the very few that conform to Holdren’s alarmist point of view.”
Sadly, in addition to the United Nations where the hoax originated and any number of world leaders including our President and Secretary of State, Pope Francis has announced that he too believes the Earth is warming. Someone should tell him that it has been in a natural cooling cycle going on twenty years at this point!
Of course, such facts mean nothing to Dr. Holdren and even less to the President. That is why we are likely to not only hear more about climate change from him, but also discover that the White House intends the last two years of Obama’s term in office to be an all-out effort to impose restrictions and find reasons to throw money at the hoax. Dr. Holdren was no doubt a major contributor to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy initiative announced on December 3rd.
This “Climate Action Plan” called the “Climate Education and Literacy Initiative” is primarily directed at spreading the hoax in the nation’s classrooms and via various government entities as the National Park Service so they can preach it to the 270 million people who visit the nation’s 401 parks each year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will sponsor five regional workshops for educators and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, along with the American Geosciences Institute and the National Center for Science Education will launch four videos likely to be shown in schools.
Joining the White House will be the Alliance for Climate Education, the American Meteorological Society, the Earth Day Network, Green Schools Alliance, and others. It adds up to a massive climate change propaganda campaign, largely paid for with taxpayer funding.
The “science” that will be put forward will be as unremittingly bogus as we have been hearing and reading since the late 1980s when the global warming hoax was launched.
When Dr. Holdren faced a 2009 confirmation hearing, he moved away from his early doomsday views on climate change, population growth, and the possibilities of nuclear war. Though warned by William Yeatman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute that Dr. Holdren had “a 40-year record of outlandish scientific assertions, consistently wrong predictions, and dangerous public policy choices” that made him “unfit to serve as the White House Science Advisor”, the committee voted unanimously to confirm him. They should have read some of his published views.
Regrettably Congress generally goes along with the climate change hoax. Dr. Holdren noted that “Global change research (did) well in the 2013 budget. One can look at that as a reaffirmation of our commitment to addressing the climate change challenge. There’s $2.6 billion in the budget for the United States Global Change Research Program.”
Let me repeat that. $2.6 BILLION devoted to “research” on global warming or climate change. One must assume it is devoted to finding ways for mankind to cope with the non-existent global warming or the threat of a climate change about which mankind can do nothing. It is comparable to saying that humans can get the Sun to increase or decrease its radiation.
In June 2014, Ron Arnold, the executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise and Washington Examiner columnist, noted that Dr. Holdren has long held the view that the U.S. should “de-develop” its “over-developed” economy.
That likely explains the Obama administration’s attack on the use of coal, particularly in utilities that use it to generate electricity. In the six years since the policy has been pursued by the EPA, coal-fired utilities have been reduced from providing fifty percent of the nation’s electricity to forty percent. Less energy means less investment in new business and industrial manufacturing, less jobs, and less safety for all of us who depend on electricity in countless ways.
Arnold reported that “Holdren wrote his de-development manifesto with Paul and Anne Ehrlich, the scaremongering authors of the Sierra Club book, ‘The Population Bomb.’” Aside from the fact that every prediction in the book has since proven to be wrong, but it was clear then and now that Dr. Holdren is no fan of the human population of the planet. Like most deeply committed environmentalists, it is an article of faith that the planet’s problems are all the result of human activity, including its weather.
In December 2014, Dr. Holdren expressed the view that worldwide carbon dioxide emissions should be reduced to “close to zero”, adding “That will not be easy.” This reflected the deal President Obama agreed to with China, but carbon dioxide plays no discernable role whatever in “global warming” (which isn’t happening) and is, in fact, a gas essential to all life on Earth, but particularly for all vegetation that is dependent on it for growth.
Dr. Holdren’s continued presence as the chief Science Advisor to the President encourages Obama to repeat all the tired claims and falsehoods of global warming and climate change. It is obscene that his administration devotes billions of dollars and countless hours to spreading a hoax that is an offense to the alleged “science” it cites.
The North and South Poles are not melting. The polar bear population is growing. The seas are not dramatically rising. Et cetera!
One can only hope that a Republican-controlled Congress will do what it can to significantly reduce the money being wasted and reverse the EPA war on coal and the utilities that use it to produce the energy the nation requires.
For now, Dr. Holdren will continue to use his influence in ways that confound and refute the known facts of climate science. How does it feel to be the enemy of an environment that Dr. Holdren and others regard as more important than human life?
It’s Time to Endanger the Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act has become a gold mine for liberal activists and a barrier to our nation’s infrastructure. It is time for it to go. The Heartland Institute's Taylor Smith reports for the January issue of Townhall Magazine.
“The real wealth of the Nation,” Rachel Carson wrote in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, “lies in the resources of the earth—soil, water, forests, minerals, and wildlife.”
That letter was published in 1953, about nine years before she published her seminal work, “Silent Spring,” a 400-page treatise on synthetic pesticides and their effect on wildlife, particularly birds. “Silent Spring” is largely credited for launching the modern environmental movement, a movement that greatly restructured the American political landscape, culminating in the passing of several major new pieces of environmental legislation in the 1970s and a whole new federal environmental agency to enforce them.
In her book, Carson argues the use of pesticides to kill crop-destroying insects is dangerous because the chemicals invariably accumulate, make their way up the food chain, and kill birds and fish. As the book’s title suggests, continuing such practices would lead to a future in which spring arrives and no birds can be heard singing, due to the devastation caused by pesticides, particularly DDT.
The book developed a widespread following both among the public and in Congress, which called for much greater federal involvement to protect wildlife. This is ironic because it was a federal agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that had subsidized DDT-spraying programs all over the United States, leading to its abuse. To her credit, Carson was extremely critical of such federal programs, but she nonetheless supported an expanded government role for wildlife protection.
The Creation of the Endangered Species Act
In 1964, Carson got her wish. The Department of Interior appointed a new Committee on Rare and Endangered Wildlife Species. The Secretary of Interior at that time was Stewart Udall, a staunch supporter of Carson who became an environmental icon in his own right after his 1963 book, “The Quiet Crisis,” also became a bestseller.
Udall publicly requested Congress pass a bill allowing the DOI to buy land to protect endangered species habitats. After a fierce debate over states’ rights, Congress passed the Endangered Species Preservation Act, authorizing land acquisition to conserve “selected species of native fish and wildlife.” The bill also authorized the secretary of DOI to list such species as endangered, which he did in 1967.
The law was amended in 1969 and subsequently renamed the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969. It extended protection to include species “threatened with worldwide extinction”and banned the interstate transport of listed species. The bill also added mollusks and crustaceans for protection.
That law would remain in effect for only four years. After such landmark environmental bills such as the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972 were passed, President Nixon demanded the 93rd Congress revise the Endangered Species Conservation Act to increase protection further. Congress responded with the Endangered Species Act of 1973, a complete rewrite of the law.
The new law’s provisions included a repeal of the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969, and it enacted federal protection for all threatened species and subspecies. A species can be listed as “threatened” if it is believed to be under the threat of becoming endangered soon, and is listed as “endangered” if it is “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”
The law also prohibits “takings” of listed species, and makes it an offense to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” The Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service were charged with administering most of the law, but other federal agencies are also required to coordinate their actions to protect identified species.
Lack of Clarity, Immediate Problems
In his book “Noah’s Choice,” Paul Lenzini, head council for the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies at that time, claims no one who voted for the Endangered Species Act had the “foggiest idea” of what they had voted for.
One possible reason that no one understood the law could be that no commercial interests testified against the bill. The law passed by overwhelming margins, 390-12 in the House and 92-0 in the Senate. Even the prominent conservative James Buckley, brother of William F. Buckley, voted for the most restrictive environmental law on the nation’s books.
As with the Affordable Care Act, only after the law was passed did Congress find out what was in it. This realization occurred when the snail darter, a two-inch fish, was discovered swimming in the Little Tennessee River, the site of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s proposed Tellico dam. In 1975, with the dam 70 percent complete and having already cost $50 million, the Fish and Wildlife Service received a petition to have the snail darter listed as endangered, which it approved.
Afterwards, Hiram Hill, a University of Tennessee law student, filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority claiming the project violated the Endangered Species Act. The case, Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill et al., made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. TVA counsel Griffin Bell challenged the Endangered Species Act by holding up a small glass jar, containing a single snail darter, and asked how a two-inch fish could be valued above the completion of a multimillion dollar dam.
In response, the plaintiffs argued the language of the law is clear and construction of the Tellico dam would destroy the snail darter’s habitat. The Court ruled 6-3 in favor of Hill et al. Chief Justice Warren Burger, in the majority opinion, affirmed the plaintiff’s’ argument by saying, “One would be hard pressed to find a statutory provision whose terms were any plainer than those in Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. Its very words affirmatively command all federal agencies ‘to insure that actions authorized, funded, or carried out by them do not jeopardize the continued existence’ of an endangered species or ‘result in the destruction or modification of habitat of such species.’”
Congress immediately sought legislation to rein in the law. Lynn Greenwalt, who served as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife from 1973 to 1980, reported, “During rounds of Congressional hearings, many witnesses from Congress came forward to say they did not know this new act could prevent everything. They thought they were voting for legislation to protect eagles, bears, and whooping cranes. They professed not to understand at the time of passage that this law might raise questions about irrigation projects, timber harvests, the dredging of ports, or the generation of electricity.”
Seeking an alternative strategy, Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker attached a “rider” to the Energy and Water Development Appropriation Bill that exempted the Tellico Dam from any federal laws prohibiting its construction. The dam was completed in November 1979. The nearby snail darter population did not survive, but through careful transplantations its population recovered enough for the Fish and Wildlife Service to downgrade the species’ status from “endangered” to “threatened.”
Good Intentions, Poor Results
Despite its recovery, the snail darter is still on the “threatened” list today. That underscores the ultimate failure of the law. Although Fish and Wildlife Service states the law’s “ultimate goal is to ‘recover’ species so they no longer need protection under ESA,” only 56 species have been delisted in the 40-year history of the law. Of those, 10 are extinct and 18 were mistakenly listed in the first place. Regarding the remaining 28, the government hasn’t presented any evidence showing the Endangered Species Act specifically led to their recovery.
Protecting each listed species also comes at significant cost. For example, the threatened desert tortoise received nearly $190 million in taxpayer support from 1996 to 2009, yet its population has increased only marginally.
The law is intend to protect endangered species by enforcing a $100,000 fine and/or one year prison sentence for harming a single listed species or even an unoccupied yet suitable habitat. Such severe punishment effectively turns any endangered species into a financial liability. The most publicized outcome of these distorted incentives is what landowners call the “Three S’s,” standing for “shoot, shovel, and shut up.” It refers to a landowner shooting an endangered species, using a shovel to bury the carcass, and shutting up about the incident for fear the federal government will find out.
Far more common than “shoot, shovel, and shut up,” however, is what is known as the “scorched earth” strategy. “Scorched earth” refers to landowners degrading their own land to the extent that it becomes unsuitable for endangered species habitat.
The ‘Scorched Earth’ Strategy
To understand such perverse incentives, consider the case of Ben Cone of North Carolina. Cone and his father had spent decades rehabilitating some 8,000 acres of land his father originally purchased in poor condition. The land was eventually upgraded enough to produce some ecological and financial value. Cone sold pine straw, fallen pine needles that can be useful mulch for landscapers. He also sold hunting licenses and allowed a small portion of his land’s trees to be harvested for timber.
Although the total income generated was not enough to completely offset the cost of managing the land, Cone was more interested in the value his land brought to wildlife and the nearby community than financial profit. He proved this by cutting only a selective amount of trees that didn’t disturb wildlife, and he did so on 70-80 year rotations rather than the industry norm of 30-40 years. Cone also allowed the local Boy Scouts to camp free of charge on his land and sold deer hunting licenses to the locals only to reduce the likelihood of trespassers hunting illegally on his land.
Cone’s environmental conscientiousness backfired, however, when in 1991 he discovered endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers on his land. As soon as the Fish and Wildlife Service found out, the agency strictly prohibited 1,121 acres—about 20 percent of Cone’s property, and worth about $1,425,000—from most commercial and personal uses. Adding insult to injury, the IRS later informed Cone his tax burden would not be reduced based on the reduced value of the land and he would still have to pay taxes at pre-prohibition rates. This was especially troubling for Cone, who had hoped to help his two sons avoid as much of the federal estate tax as possible. Cone had cut down numerous trees for the sole purpose of paying the tax after inheriting the land from his father.
Among the first actions Cone took to remedy this problem was notifying adjacent landowners of his predicament and asserting he would not be liable if red-cockaded woodpeckers inhabited their land. The result: those landowners clear-cut approximately 500 acres of nearby forest.
Cone followed with his own clear-cutting, speeding his 70-80 year rotation to a 40-year pace. Cone, who had always valued environmental sanctity over financial gain, was forced to clear-cut his forests in order to prevent woodpeckers from inhabiting any more of his land and to acquire the funds his heirs would need to pay the large estate tax bill that would assess his land at pre-woodpecker rates despite allowing only the financial resources of devalued, post-prohibition land. Despite the great financial losses Cone and other landowners like him suffered, the red-cockaded woodpecker has yet to recover and be removed from the endangered species list.
Environmentalists Stymie Reform
Despite the well-publicized harm the Endangered Species Act inflicts on the environment and on landowners, and the failure to remove species from endangerment, mainstream environmental groups largely oppose reform of the law. They fear any reform would jeopardize the law’s usefulness as a powerful litigation weapon they can readily use to halt major project development, seize property from private owners, convert it to public control, and to milk the federal government for taxpayer funds.
Perhaps the group taking the most advantage of the Endangered Species Act is the Center for Biological Diversity, which has cashed in on the broken law by inundating the Department of Interior with petitions to list several hundred additional species to the endangered list. After DOI fails to respond to each one within the statutory 90-day deadline, the Center gets to sue the Interior and collect attorney fees from the Justice Department.
Amos Eno, founding president of the conservation group Resources First Foundation, told High Country News the Center for Biological Diversity is “one of the reasons the Endangered Species Act has become so dysfunctional.”
Central to that dysfunction is the heavy burdens the law places on landowners. Some two-thirds of listed species depend on private land for habitat. By imposing pain with no possible gain, the law pits landowners against the very endangered species whose recovery requires their assistance.
Endangered Species Reserve Program
Landowners, and even some environmentalists, have been expressing increasing interest in fundamental reforms of the law. Analysts and policymakers have offered numerous proposals to repeal and replace the Endangered Species Act with a program that would reward landowners for saving endangered species instead of merely punishing them for developing land on which such species are found.
One such proposal, which already has proof of concept, is the Endangered Species Reserve Program, modeled on the successful Conservation Reserve Program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Proposed by Brian Seasholes, director of the Endangered Species Project at the Reason Foundation, the program would compensate landowners with annual payments in exchange for agreeing to sign 10-15 year contracts promising they will conserve endangered species habitat.
This is similar to the Conservation Reserve Program in which such contracts are used to incentivize landowners to address soil erosion and other natural resource-related concerns on environmentally-sensitive land. Contracts would be short, to accommodate changing ecological conditions and because landowners strongly dislike long-term agreements. The program, Seasholes argues, is proven, flexible, and simple, and most importantly, it would restore landowners’ constitutional right to “just compensation” and change endangered species’ status from financial liabilities to creatures of value.
After all, if Rachel Carson was right and wildlife truly is the “real Wealth of the Nation,” isn’t it about time a law recognized them for their value instead of turning them into financial catastrophes?
For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.
Preserving the graphics: Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere. But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases. After that they no longer come up. From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site. See here or here
Posted by JR at 1:40 AM