Washington The cowboy hat-wearing rancher who chairs the House committee in charge of environmental policy says he's finished trying to recast the Endangered Species Act in one fell swoop.
Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., says now he wants to take it on bit by bit.
"I think it's just a lot easier and a lot more practical to break it down," he said. Pombo is entering his second year as chairman of the House Resources Committee.
His new approach worries environmentalists, who say the 30-year-old law never has been in more jeopardy.
"It's the death-of-a-thousand-cuts approach," said Bart Semcer, fish and wildlife policy specialist for the Sierra Club. "They know that they can't win by adopting a wholesale approach to attacking the Endangered Species Act, so they're launching sneak attacks, small pieces of legislation that they're hoping the public won't notice in order to undermine the law."
Pombo, who contends environmental regulations too often infringe on the rights of farmers and homeowners, said the act produces more lawsuits and property disputes than it provides protection for wildlife. It's a point he's argued since he was handed the task of rewriting the law in 1995.
That effort never made it to the House floor. Subsequent attempts also went nowhere.
The Endangered Species Act requires the government to use "the best scientific and commercial data available" in choosing animals and plants to list. Listed species are supposed to be protected from potentially harmful activities and can get designations of critical habitat on which more protections are given.
More than 1,200 plants and animals are listed as threatened or endangered. The Fish and Wildlife Service says 37 have been taken off the list over the years -- 15 because they recovered and the others because they went extinct or for technical reasons.