Sen. Dirk Kempthorne stands a good chance of resolving one of the most polarizing environmental debates of the past decade with his new endangered species reform bill that is backed by a key Senate leader.
The Idaho Republican and GOP Sen. John Chafee of Rhode Island, the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, are circulating a proposal to involve state and local officials in developing recovery plans for endangered species.
“I want to put the emphasis on recovery without putting people and communities out of work,” Kempthorne said Monday.
The bill would require strict schedules and standards for species recovery, reduce the review of federal activities that may affect endangered species, allow states to assume responsibility for recovery and make the federal government prove any specific activity will result in the loss of endangered species.
The measure would affect everything from fishing opportunities to electric power generation and ultimately power bills.
National environmental groups already are lining up against it although Kempthorne has received uncharacteristic praise from the Idaho Conservation League.
And at least one group representing loggers, miners, property owners and off-road vehicle riders likes the bill. Industry groups still are analyzing the draft.
“We realize it’s a tremendous thing to get Chafee on board,” said Greg Nelson, Idaho Farm Bureau director of public affairs. “Some groups say they traded too much, but we don’t know that yet.”
Dropped from previous versions is compensation for property owners who are prevented from full use of their land or water and incentives for land owners to protect endangered species.
Chafee vetoed the so-called “takings” provision, but Kempthorne plans to push it as an amendment. The incentive package will be introduced as a separate bill.
John McCarthy, Idaho Conservation League public lands director, called the new legislation an improvement over Kempthorne’s 1995 version.
“It’s really significant that he’s listening to people,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think this bill has to be killed like the last one, but I think there are some things in it that have to be changed.”
The most controversial piece of Kempthorne’s bill is curbing the required review of federal actions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
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