November 07, 2013

Federal judge believes Susan Combs' environmental greenwash on dunes lizard

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, even though she's not running for another office in 2014, made a naked pitch to Tea Partiers this summer, and now she's gotten a federal judge to buy it.

Defenders of Wildlife and Center for Biological Diversity are suing the US Fish and Wildlife Service over its refusal to list the dunes sagebrush lizard on the Endangered Species Act, after other environmentalists and oil companies agreed to a Texas Conservation Plan to help the West Texas critter out somewhat, at least theoretically.

Here's what Defenders says about the merits of the case:
“The Fish and Wildlife Service is operating completely in the dark in Texas on this one. Denying Endangered Species Act protection for a species that is clearly imperiled based on a wink and a nod from the state is downright negligent at best, since the Service has no way of validating the quality or effectiveness of the agreements,” said Jason Rylander, senior attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. 

After the lizard spent nearly 30 years as a candidate for endangered species protection, in 2010 the Service proposed to protect the lizard as endangered. This was a promising move for lizard survival, since the species’ narrow range has gotten narrower due to increased oil and gas drilling and herbicide spraying on livestock grazing land. However, 18 months later, the Service withdrew the proposal, citing the conservation agreement with Texas as a reason.
Don't forget that former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar never met an oilman he didn't like, even while in office, before I move you on to any comments by Combs, who helped develop that TCP and who is presiding officer of the legislatively created Interagency Task Force on Economic Growth and Endangered Species.

According to an emailed presser by her in August:
 At the time, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar lauded the TCP, calling it “a great example of how states and landowners can take early, landscape-level action to protect wildlife habitat before a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act.”
Translated: Salazar showed oilmen how to do neoliberal environmentalism-lite.

And, from that same presser, that task force "assists local communities and governments with maintaining continued economic growth while they respond to ESA actions."

Translated, that means that task force "refuses to price the value of environmental protection, and tourism and recreation based upon protected environments, while continuing to pursue growth often unwittingly subsidized by taxpayers through things like economic development agencies.
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Unfortunately, Combs has gotten a federal judge to agree with her. From a new PR email from her office:
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs was granted a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regarding the decision not to list the dunes sagebrush lizard (DSL) as a threatened or endangered species.

The court has agreed to hear input from those who would be directly affected by this litigation, according to the Oct. 24 ruling by U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras.

“The judge’s decision ensures that stakeholders who worked on an important lizard conservation plan have a say in the proceedings,” Combs said. “The plan is part of our continuing efforts to help Texas strike an appropriate balance between environmental protection and economic growth.”

The judge ordered the parties to submit a Joint Status Report with a proposed briefing schedule to the Court no later than Nov. 22, 2013.

The lawsuit, filed by Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, asked the court to require FWS to reconsider its June 2012 decision not to list the lizard. The plaintiffs argued the DSL was not being protected because the Combs-led Texas Conservation Plan (TCP) for the DSL was voluntary in nature, and the partners to the plan were providing too little information to FWS. According to Combs, this is simply not the case.
Well, according to We the Environmental People, this IS the case.

Defenders and CBD say the state and private landowning/oil-extracting partners aren't passing along enough information about how the TCP is actually working.

She says:
More than 110,000 of 197,000 acres of Texas DSL habitat are held by participants who are actively providing conservation measures for the species. 
But, if inadequate information is being provided, how do we know this is true? And, even if it is adequate, that's still just half its habitat.

And, in fact, the lawsuit specifically refutes such claims:
In announcing the lawsuit, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity criticized the Texas conservation agreement, saying it only vaguely described the actions required and leaving specific  conservation measures to be spelled out in certificates between each participant and the state of Texas. They criticized the fact that those certificates are guarded from public access by state law, leaving “no way for Fish and Wildlife, or scientists and other experts, to determine whether such measures are adequate to prevent the lizard’s extinction. The lack of knowledge and transparency in this case not only further threatens the survival of dunes sagebrush lizard, but also sets a dangerous precedent for other species waiting in line for protection.”

Compounding the problem, the two groups said, Texas has delegated authority to implement the agreement to a private entity, the “Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation,” which is run by three lobbyists from the Texas Oil and Gas Association.
This is the key. We the Environmental People have no way of knowing if Combs is telling the truth. And, given the state's general history on environmental issues in the last 20 years, it makes sense to assume she's lying until proven otherwise.

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