State Rep. Dennis Kintigh’s Oct. 9 opinion piece criticizing the Endangered Species Act demonstrates an unyielding loyalty to the oil and gas industry, a dubious commitment to science and environmental protection, and a clear misunderstanding of the facts.
Mr. Kintigh complained that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – the agency in charge of enforcing the act – proposes to follow the law by protecting the rare and imperiled dunes sagebrush lizard. He repeated the fear-mongering of U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, who maintains despite facts that “most” of New Mexico’s oil and gas jobs would be put at risk if the lizards are protected.
Kintigh’s outlandish claim that lizard protection could “endanger the economic life” of New Mexicans is wrong. The reptile’s habitat makes up less than 1 percent of the Permian Basin oil patch. Moreover, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management withheld less than 1 percent of the acreage it planned to lease to oil and gas companies in the past two years to protect the lizard’s habitat.
In that period, the BLM Pecos District leased more than 58,000 acres of public land in southeast New Mexico without any lizard restriction. The agency also delivered nearly $21 million in royalty payments to the state government.
Peer review by independent scientists
Mr. Kintigh’s assertion that Fish and Wildlife lacks accountability also ignores the facts. Listing decisions are subject to peer review by independent scientists – the same process scientific journals use to scrutinize studies before publication. In a recent report to Congress, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said Fish and Wildlife uses the best available science in decisions to list endangered species, and its use of external peer review is consistent and reliable.
In contrast, Mr. Kintigh organized a farce “science review” of lizard protection by people who lack expertise on the lizard and who had already voiced opposition to the lizard’s listing. The hand-picked “science” panel included a cowboy museum curator, a livestock rancher and two petroleum geologists who work for the oil and gas industry.
Mr. Kintigh’s statement that decisions about endangered species are made without oversight is also incorrect. In addition to undergoing scientific peer review, those decisions are reviewable under federal law that requires judges to set aside actions that are “arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.” These standards apply to Endangered Species Act listings, and federal judges routinely enforce them.
Alarmist tales of economic catastrophe if the lizard is saved from extinction have no basis in reality. They are nothing but talking points in an ideological campaign to undermine federal agencies responsible for protecting the species and ecosystems upon which we all ultimately depend.
While the oil and gas industry – whose financial largesse has handsomely benefited politicians like Mr. Pearce and his acolytes – has a responsibility to maximize profits, it has no such responsibility to the American people or our environment.
Jay Lininger is an ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity in Albuquerque.