Peoria Journal Star

October 1, 2005

LaHood opposes environmental changes
Legislator says bill goes too far, upsets current legal balance

By Dori Meinert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, was one of 34 House Republicans this week to oppose a House-passed bill that would dramatically change the 1973 Endangered Species Act, which has been credited with saving the bald eagle and other species from extinction.

The bill, which passed the House 229-193 on Thursday, would require the federal government to pay private property owners if efforts to protect endangered species block development. It also would restrict the government's authority to protect critical habitat.

It's unclear whether the Senate would approve such a bill.

The bill was authored by House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., a strong property-rights advocate, who called the current law "a failure at recovering species."

But LaHood said the House-approved bill goes too far and upsets a careful balance in current law.

"I think the laws in place now to protect endangered species are not as far out of whack as Pombo felt they were," LaHood said. "I just think it went too far."

LaHood joined 34 Republicans, 158 Democrats and one independent to oppose the bill. The Democratic opponents included Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island. Thirty-six Democrats sided with 193 Republicans, including Reps. John Shimkus of Collinsville and Jerry Weller of Morris, to approve the bill.

LaHood said the bill would strip protections from endangered species.

"I think it would certainly go a long way in terms of reversing some of the laws that are currently in place that really provide an opportunity to protect endangered species," LaHood said.

On the issue of property rights, LaHood said, "I think the approach that is used now is pretty balanced."

"Now if the government needs to set aside someone's land, there are good provisions for both sides to be heard..." he said.

The White House supports the bill, but expressed concern about the cost. The Congressional Budget Office estimates it could cost up to $20 million annually.

Andrew Wetzler, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the bill "would fleece U.S. taxpayers by paying wealthy developers to comply with endangered species protections. Under a loose compensation scheme, land developers would be able to name their price for lost profits. In America, we don't pay people to pollute."