The U.S. secretary of the interior should decide how - or even whether - to save endangered plants and animals from extinction, U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton said Tuesday.
The Republican senator said his upcoming rewrite of the Endangered Species Act would clarify the politics of handling questions such as how to save the northern spotted owl and the Snake River salmon.
“The problem now is we’re hiding the politics,” Gorton said in an interview with The Spokesman-Review editorial board. “This would give the president and the secretary no place to hide.”
The question of whether an animal or plant faces extinction would still be based on the best scientific evidence, as it is now, he said.
But once that decision is made, the interior secretary, who is accountable to the president, would determine the best way to save it. Those recovery plans now are drafted by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
After reviewing all the economic and social costs of protecting a species, the secretary could decide to do nothing.
Those who didn’t like the decision could vote out the president, and with him, the interior secretary.
Gorton plans to unveil his proposal, which he termed a fairly moderate bill, later this month.
He denied published reports that the bill is being drafted by industry groups anxious to rewrite the Endangered Species Act. But his staff has sought their ideas and input, he said.
He has not contacted environmental groups for their suggestions, he added.
“I know what the environmental groups’ opinion is,” Gorton said. “Last year, they wanted the Endangered Species Act strengthened. This year, they want no change at all.”
Environmental groups unsuccessfully targeted Gorton for defeat last year during his reelection campaign.
Gorton argues he represents the weaker side of the fight, the industries and communities affected by the act. He and the environmental groups have a basic disagreement in philosophy, he said.
Environmentalists tend to romanticize nature, Gorton said. He follows the philosophy that “life, in nature, is nasty, brutish and short.”