Literally minutes before adjourning for the year, the House of Representatives without debate unanimously approved a $261 million-a-year legislative grab bag of goodies for environmentalists and their allies in government, and sent it to the Senate for final approval.

Co-authored by Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Bob Smith, R-N.H., The
American Wildlife Enhancement Act – S 990
– provides the wherewithal for massive land acquisition by state government agencies and non-profit groups, boosts the powers and status of the environmental organizations, and enacts a major amendment to the 1973 Endangered Species Act by adding a new designation – “species at risk” – to the familiar “threatened” and “endangered” categories. The establishment and expansion of several national wildlife refuges and a five-year rodent control program are thrown in for good measure.

The congressman responsible for its passage by the House last week was Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah. Although
Hansen headed the House Resources Committee, to which the bill was assigned
after it passed the Senate in December, he held no hearings on it. Instead,
he kept it on a back shelf until 2:22 a.m. Friday, when he asked that the
Resources Committee be discharged from further consideration of the bill
and that it be placed on the calendar for a vote. Three minutes later –
with major sections stripped from it – S 990 was on its way to the Senate.

The same tactic was used for 14 other bills submitted for last-minute
approval. Each was labeled non-controversial, placed on the consent
calendar, voted upon, and sent to the Senate.

This was essentially a rerun of the bill’s passage by the Senate. On the
evening of Dec. 22, at the end of one of the longest legislative years in
decades, and with a mere handful of senators still present, Reid called for
“unanimous consent” to pass S 990. The bill passed.

“Who voted for and against the bill? No one will ever know. Was there even
a quorum present? No one will ever know,” wrote Henry Lamb, in an article in WorldNetDaily.

Lamb suggested that the bill would be better named the “Screw-the-Landowner Act of 2001,” and observed: “It is one of several proposals
to provide tax dollars and authorization to convert even more of the
rapidly diminishing private property in America to government inventories.
The bill provides $600 million per year for five years for the ‘acquisition
of an area of land or water that is suitable or capable of being made
suitable for feeding, resting or breeding by wildlife.’ With this broad
purpose, no land anywhere is safe from condemnation and acquisition by an
agency of government.”

“Apparently, the U.S. Senate will use our tax dollars to buy pig swill if
it is sold in a green bucket,” Lamb added.

And, apparently, so will the House of Representatives.

Hansen’s move in the dead of night caught S 990’s opponents off-guard, but
they moved quickly to try and derail it in the Upper House. Faxes and
e-mails have been flying through the phone lines and across the Internet,
urging property-rights activists and the public to contact their senators
and demand that a hold be placed on the bill.

Under the Senate’s unanimous consent rules, if one member objects to a bill
it must be removed from the consent calendar, and cannot be considered
until next year. A vote could come as early as today. The Senate is
scheduled to adjourn Thursday.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Cattlemen’s Beef
Association and the National Water Resources Association (the Western
irrigators) have weighed in opposition, joining the American Land Rights Association, a grass-roots group based in Battle Ground, Wash., which has
been actively fighting the bill from its inception, along with its earlier
variants.

Lobbyist Mike Hardiman, who represents ALRA on Capitol Hill, views S 990 as
“the most dangerous property rights bill this session” – and not only
because of its land-acquisition provisions. In fact, as approved by the
House, the sections that would have allocated some $350 million a year for
the Pittman-Robertson Fund were eliminated. The Pittman-Robertson Fund is a
long-established, dedicated fund, supported with a tax on purchases for
sporting equipment: guns, ammunition, archery equipment and other outdoor
supplies.

This was to be augmented by the $350 million per year, the largest
allocation in the bill. It was inexplicably removed by Hansen, who requested
and was given permission to amend the bill that had been voted upon by the
Senate. Hansen not only removed the funding provision, the entire section
dealing with amendments to Pittman-Robertson was deleted, and several new
sections were added.

The cost of the bill went from $3 billion over five years, to $1.3 billion
– a cut of over half – in 30 seconds.

But $1.3 billion over five years is a great deal of money, and Hardiman has
dubbed S 990 “Son of CARA,” as it is a scaled-down version of the
Conservation and Reinvestment Act, the mega-land bill that
environmentalists and land-trust advocates have been trying to get through
Congress for several years, with only partial success.

“The reason I call it ‘Son of CARA’ is that it is just a fraction of what
they [environmentalists] want,” Hardiman explained. “We’ve really beaten
them up on the CARA bill so badly that now they’re just taking little
pieces of it and trying to slip these through.”

But there are differences, he added. “CARA was a 15-year authorization for
guaranteed money. It is a trust fund: guaranteed money for 15 years. A
total disaster. CARA-Lite, which did pass last year, is a five-year program
with several hundred million for land acquisition each year. S 990 is a
Son of CARA, which is several hundred million more for up to five
years, but it is not a trust fund. It is not guaranteed money. They will
have to go back and ask Congress for it every year, and there’s no
guarantee they’re going to get it.”

But money matters aside, in Hardiman’s view the most egregious section in S
990 is the one amending the Endangered Species Act.

“This is the most dangerous part of the bill, as well as the most
overlooked,” Hardiman told WorldNetDaily. “If it passes, people will have
to worry not only about endangered and threatened species on their
property, but ‘at risk’ species, too.”

Species at risk

Specifically, S 990 creates a category called “species at risk,” defined as
any species identified by the secretaries of Interior and Commerce to be a
“candidate species” for listing as endangered or threatened. Some $150
million a year would be allocated to enforce this new provision, with the
grant money going to environmental groups, sportsmen’s groups, land trusts
and selected individuals for land acquisitions and programs.

“That’s money handed out mostly to environmental groups to go tell people
that they have a species at risk on their property,” said Hardiman. “It
expands the reach of environmental groups into people’s lives, their
property, their livelihood. The burden of evidence the environmental groups
will have to provide is virtually nothing, it’s vapor. This is not about
endangered species. It is not about even threatened species. It’s a new
invention
called ‘species at risk,’ and it can apply to potential
habitat for a species at risk, as well.”

“We’ve come a long way from the actual Endangered Species Act,” he said.

The $150 million per year allocation is the largest single financial
component of the bill and will come to $750 million over the next five
years, but there are other allocations and costs. These include:

 

  • $50 million-a-year for a competitive matching-grant program for
    “cooperative conservation” plans that include “property acquisition.” The
    federal government will make grants to states and groups of states “to pay
    the federal share … of the costs of conservation of non-federal land or
    water of regional or national significance.” The federal share will be no
    more than 50 percent to 75 percent of the cost, depending on the kind of
    project it is. Much of this “conservation” is essentially land acquisition,
    and there are no prohibitions on condemnation power.

     

  • $50 million-a-year will go for “shrubland and grassland” conservation
    (that is, acquisition), “with environmental organizations again eligible to
    feed at the taxpayer trough,” as Hardiman puts it in an e-mail alert. “Even
    worse,” he adds, “grass and shrubs are defined as, well, grass and shrubs –
    and – areas ‘historically dominated’ by grass and shrubs – and – areas
    that ‘if restored to natural grassland or shrubland, would have the
    potential to serve as habitat for endangered species, threatened
    species, or species at risk.'”

    “In other words,” he quips, “Just about every inch of America outside the
    Mojave Desert.”

     

  • $6 million-a-year goes for nutria eradication in Maryland and Louisiana.
    Nutria are furry rodents native to South America, that are causing
    considerable damage to marshlands.

     

  • $5 million-a-year to begin implementing a new completely new statute: The
    Marine Turtle Conservation Act.

That’s $261 million-a-year for the five-year programs: a total of $1.3
billion.

And it does not include additional one-time expenditures scattered through
the bill, such as the purchase of 198-acre Garrett Island, Md., to expand
the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge – for which no cost figures are
given.

Nor does it include the $9 million that outgoing Sen. Bob Smith wants to
give the Trust for Public Land for
property that will cost the trust $7 million. Smith lost in the primary to
New Hampshire Rep. John Sununu, a fellow Republican, who went on to win the
Nov. 5 election.

And it does not include $15 million to the state of Utah for a quitclaim
deed for state-owned properties in the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in
Bear River Bay of the Great Salt Lake.

Of that, $5 million must go for trail development, including $2 million for
the “development, improvement, and expansion of the James V. Hansen
Shoshone Trail.”

In addition, $11 million is to be spent on the construction of an education
and administration center at the Bear River refuge. Reportedly, the center
is to be named after the Utah congressman, but that is not specified in the
current version of the bill.

Hardiman attributes Hansen’s maneuverings to secure approval for S 990 to
his pending retirement after 20 years in the House.

Hansen’s ‘legacy mode’

“Hansen is completely in legacy mode,” Hardiman said. “He wants to be able
to name something for himself, like a trail or building, so he put all that
green stuff in so the environmentalists will let the bill go through. He’s
saying, in effect, “Here’s a whole bill with several hundred million in it
for you guys, and I’m just going to tack a couple of things of mine on it.’

“Then he can go to the Republicans and say, ‘Hey, I’m a fellow Republican,
so leave my bill alone.'”

If Hardiman is correct, it would help explain Hansen’s action earlier
this month when he introduced legislation to reform the Endangered Species
Act. In what has been termed “a parting shot to detractors in the
environmental community,” Hansen proposed exempting private property,
military land and plant life from the federal ESA.

Hansen conceded that the bill would not move this year, but said he hopes
others would take up the cause next year.

“Right now, in this country, the rights of an endangered fly or a species
of seaweed take precedence over national security, commerce and many
people’s right to the enjoyment of property and the pursuit of happiness,”
Hansen said in a statement. “Our founding fathers would be appalled.”

Debbie Sease, national legislative director for the Sierra Club, an
environmental organization, told The Spectrum, a southern Utah newspaper,
that she “wondered” about his motives in proposing such a controversial
bill at the end of the term.

“Maybe it’s for his legacy,” she said. “I think it’s pretty outrageous.
Limiting biological diversity will come back and harm man in the long run.”

Which legacy?

While the retiring congressman was apparently sticking it to the
environmentalists by threatening to push an unlikely amendment to the
Endangered Species Act, his action – whatever his motive – served to distract property-rights watchdogs from his moves in Congress.

Contacted for comment, Hansen’s office did not return phone calls.

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Thieves in the night

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