Human needs should come first in environmental policy

(WASHINGTON EXAMINER)   Ever hear of the Yellowstone Sand Verbena? Probably not, since the only place this plant is currently known to grow in North America is a beach in the national park bearing that name in Wyoming. Or how about the Meltwater Lednian Stonefly, which is only found in Glacier National Park in Montana? That one will be gone by 2030, thanks to global warming, assuming global warming is a reality, as claimed by some scientists. Or it may be frozen by the new little ice age predicted by other scientists. These are two of 29 species — including 20 plants, six snails, two insects and a fish — the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says may require federal actions to avoid extinction under the Endangered Species Act.

As Examiner Columnist and Chapman University Law School professor Hugh Hewitt explains elsewhere in today’s edition, such policies will “essentially sequester large swaths of private property from all use for years.” There won’t be a dime of compensation for the private property owners involved, either. But the injustices to private property owners hardly begin to describe the full human toll exacted by current law, which embodies a fundamentally unbalanced view of the proper relationship between man and nature.

In the energy field, for example, environmental concerns lead to costly and time-consuming delays in developing America’s untapped billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. Last summer, Bureau of Land Management officials lifted environmental restrictions designed to protect one variety of sage grouse — aka “prairie chickens” — from seeing or hearing oil or natural gas wells. But, as The Examiner then predicted, environmentalists have since sued seeking federal court orders directing reclassification of other prairie chicken varieties as endangered species. The result will again be to deny Americans the use of the abundant energy resources they own in western states like Wyoming, Colorado and Montana.

Environmental law that puts more emphasis on forever preserving the current condition of nature also shortchanges America’s ability to provide housing for a growing population. As Hewitt explains, “the proposed Clean Water Restoration Act would vastly expand federal control over private property and greatly complicate and increase the cost of bringing new homes to the market.” Since housing is a key engine of employment and economic growth, hobbling this essential industry doesn’t just deny people shelter, it also prevents the creation of millions of needed new jobs. These are just some of the reasons America needs a new national discussion of which is more important — the needs of the sage grouse or those of the people with whom such creatures share the natural world.

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