Environmental extremists dismiss property rights

Over on the Huffington Post, Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity launches an over-the-top broadside against several people involved in the incoming President’s administration. The part that is most illuminating about how some extremists think is this missive directed at the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell, who’s working on the transition at EPA:

Early in his career, [Myron] worked for Arizona Congressman John Shadegg in an effort to rewrite the [Endangered Species Act] to make it “more respectful of private property rights.” That’s almost always code for short-changing endangered animals and plants in favor of development, sprawl and profits.

That’s right. For CBD, property rights—which are expressly protected by the Constitution— are not core human rights, but merely code for things it doesn’t like. If, unlike CBD, you take property rights seriously, Myron explained his views at a 2015 event co-hosted by PLF and CEI [Myron’s comments begin at 32:00; mine at 35:00].

CBD’s dismissiveness of Myron’s thoughtful criticism of the Endangered Species Act and ideas for reform are just the latest example of a significant problem in modern debates about that statute. As I explained in a recent op-ed in The Hill, any reasonable proposal to improve the statute or its implementation is immediately met by handwringing by environmental special interests. They claim any change—no matter how reasonable—would cause the sky the fall (usually as a fund-raising ploy for these well-heeled groups). As I explain in the op-ed,

The unfortunate reality is that any suggestion to improve the Endangered Species Act is immediately met by accusations of “gutting” the statute, usually by the groups who profit from the status quo and the unnecessary litigation that it entails. This toxic political climate on endangered species issues is unfortunate, both for property owners and imperiled species.

These Chicken Littles are responsible for the fact that the Endangered Species Act, despite a recovery rate less than 2%, hasn’t been substantially rethought since the Cold War. The most likely explanation for this abysmal failure is that the statute creates terrible incentives. It punishes the very property owners responsible for endangered species still being around, by imposing ruinous restrictions on landowners who maintain habitat on their property. If a property owner is willing to devote her own resources and energies to recovering endangered species, she receives no reward for her efforts because the same burdensome restrictions are illegally imposed for “threatened” species as endangered ones. And the statute does not encourage proactive efforts to conserve and recover species.

After 40+ years, it’s time to consider reasonable reforms. Unfortunately,

Achieving the changes in how we protect endangered species that we desperately need requires a better dialogue. So long as any proposal is immediately met with hollow accusations of “gutting” the statute, we can’t have the frank discussion we need about how to best protect species and balance the many trade-offs that come with it. Long-suffering landowners and endangered species both deserve better.