(Cross-posted at Creek Running North.)

On occasion over the last five years, as the Democratic Party implodes, I have pointed to my Representative, George Miller, as an example of a Democrat who does things right.

I won’t be doing that again.

In the most recent and largely ignored attempt by California’s Representative Richard Pombo (R-Isengard) to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act, one of the crowning achievements of the environmental movement, Miller has turned out to be one of Pombo’s best allies. ESPN has the wire service version:

“There is a recognition that the current critical habitat arrangement doesn’t work, for a whole host of reasons,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., a leading liberal voice on the House Resources Committee. “There are some in the environmental community who think the answer is just no to any change, and I think that’s a problem.”

Read: Pombo wants to amputate your healthy leg at the hip. Miller, as a compromise, suggests taking it off only at the knee, and derides you as unconstructive for saying you want your leg left alone.

Miller, having helped Pombo steer a rewrite through the committee, is utterly shocked that Pombo has jettisoned some unspecified mitigations of his destruction:

Miller and other Democrats said that without substantial amendments, they still can’t support a bill by Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., that’s set for a committee vote Thursday. Pombo’s bill is a top-to-bottom overhaul of the Endangered Species Act that would delete the federal government’s ability to protect “critical habitat” for plants and animals and require compensation for landowners if the government blocks their development plans to protect certain species. Landowners could move forward with development projects that might affect species after notifying the federal government, unless the government objects within 90 days.

This, incidentally, is a sidelong misrepresentation of the Critical Habitat provisions of the ESA. (When a species is declared as Endangered under federal law, the Fish and Wildlife Service is legally obliged to declare some part of its habitat “Critical Habitat,” namely those places of which preservation is essential if the species is to recover.) Here’s a description of what Critical Habitat declarations actually mean:

“There appear to be public misperceptions that designation results in binding restrictions on private lands. In fact, designation forces consideration of all aspects of the habitat needs of a species and generates guidance to landowners, but has not been interpreted as authorizing direct regulation. … Section 7 ofthe ESA (16 U.S.C. § 1536) requires each federal agency to insure that any action authorized, funded, or carned out by the agency is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species or “result in the destruction or adverse modification of.. ” critical habitat. (Emphasis added.) If an action is likely to jeopardize or result in adverse modification of critical habitat, the agency must consult with the FWS (or the National Marine Fisheries Service if the Secretary of Commerce is the responsible Secretary).

In English: if you’re not working for a Federal agency or receiving funding from one, there is no law requiring you to pay attention to Critical Habitat designations.

Critical Habitat designations have no effect – zero – on the vast majority of private landowners.

ESPN continues:

“Pombo, a conservative rancher,”

Pombo owns a ranch. I don’t think he’s set foot on it in years. His family’s money comes from buying ranches and subdividing them into suburban sprawl for moderate-income Bay Area commuters. Every aspect of his policy – from gutting ESA to advocating new freeways through wilderness areas – has to do with what would make his family wealthier. Rancher, my ass. anyway:

“…contends the Endangered Species Act causes lawsuits and conflicts with landowners while failing to do enough for species. He notes that a tiny percentage of the 1,830 species listed under the act – about 15 – have come off the list because they’ve recovered; supporters counter that only nine listed species have gone extinct.”

And, of course, it’s the fault of the ESA that slimeball developers and “ranchers” and their federal employees have fought its implementation and expansion at every turn, cut funding to wildlife agencies, refused to carry out the legally mandated provisions of the Act, and introduced repeated laws – such as the odious Habitat Conservation Plans – to undermine the intent of ESA in a climate of rampant exploitation of every last acre.

ESPN again:

But Democrats and environmentalists who were willing to say goodbye to critical habitat wanted Pombo to propose stronger language in other parts of the bill in exchange. Instead they say he erased critical habitat without including other mechanisms to protect species’ homes.

And so one of the last pieces of law that offers even the slightest protection of endangered species in a minority of cases, and with no effect on the vast majority of property owners is to be traded off for unspecified “other methods of protection.” Because the Critical Habitat provision, apparently, is not weak enough.

How, exactly, Representative Miller, is one to protect a species without its god damn habitat?

Here’s a little indication of how badly wrong Democrats such as Miller have gone on ESA, and a final indication that the Democratic Party is simply not to be relied on when it comes to protecting the environment. ESPN again:

Even some supporters say the designation of critical habitat where development is limited is driven by lawsuits, leading to bad decisions. Critics cite the proposal to list 4.1 million acres in California – parts of 28 of the state’s 58 counties – as habitat for the red-legged frog.

Here’s the thing. The critics are right that the Critical Habitat process is dysfunctional and lawsuit driven. But the “lawsuit-driven” part is a symptom of the dysfunctionality, and it’s only there because the Federal government has continually refused to enforce the law. I happen to know the people behind the lawsuit to force a Critical Habitat declaration for the red-legged frog. As is the case for a lot of other species, the Interior Department was sued over the red-legged frog because the Fish and Wildlife Service refused to declare Critical Habitat for the frog despite a legal obligation to do so.

The Interior Secretary when the suit was filed? Bruce Babbit. You might remember him. He was a Clinton appointee. He was a Democrat.

Sadly, Miller’s stupid, destructive blundering represents in this case the best of Democratic environmental policy. The Democratic mainstream is more likely represented by Dennis Cardoza, Representative in California’s 18th District who worked closely with Pombo to craft the current attack on ESA.

The environment needs politicians who will fight for it. I thought Miller was one such politician. I was mistaken. Ironically enough, now that the Democrats have destroyed yet another opportunity to do, well, anything right, there is a politician who may offer an obstacle to Pombo’s gutting of the ESA. The last paragraph in the ESPN story:

Even if it passes the House, the bill could have trouble in the Senate. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., a moderate who chairs an Environment and Public Works subcommittee, is holding hearings and considering introducing a bill. Spokesman Stephen Hourahan said the senator has concerns about Pombo’s critical habitat provision.

I’m not holding my breath. But anyone who holds to the idea that the best way to protect the environment is to elect Democrats is, at this point, completely delusional.

The Democratic Party must be destroyed. If we are to survive with any shred of the things we seek to protect, we have to create an actual opposition party. I don’t really care whether that actual opposition is called “Democratic Party” or not.  Build the new in the shell of the old if you think that’s the best way to go about it. But it cannot be the same party we now watch as they fumble every opportunity to do something, anything at all to stem the tide of destruction.

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