In this guest post by Shawn Regan, a research fellow and the director of publications at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) in Bozeman, Montana, looks at the fact that to acquire rights to natural resources in the West, you must use the resource. This is an obvious barrier to many would-be environmentalist bidders.
Environmentalists’ knee-jerk reactions to the Trump administration’s regulatory changes under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA) were as predictable as they were misguided. Environmentalists claimed the changes violate the law and gut protections—leaving vulnerable species otherwise on the road to recovery at risk of annihilation.
Sadly, the mainstream media, which seems to treat as revealed truth every study, press release, pronouncement, and tweet from environmentalists, especially if it’s critical of the Trump administration, parroted these claims.
Based on environmentalists’ and the press’s reactions, you would think the ESA had a glowing track record of success in bringing species back from the brink of extinction, but nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, the ESA has been a costly fiasco.
I divide environmental topics into two sometimes overlapping groups, “romance” and “sludge.” The romance sector includes parks, forests, wildlands, wilderness, wildlife, and scenic vistas. These treasures grace calendars and coffee table books. Most educated and comfortable adults, even committed urbanites, are attracted to and want to protect this sector.
The second division is sludge. This term refers to nasty stuff that is often the necessary byproduct of legitimate productive activities such as food processing, mining, and manufacturing. These are spillovers from legitimate and useful activities.Economists call this category negative externalities. They ask: How might we efficiently reduce them—or even better, convert them into useful products?
That’s exactly what environmental entrepreneurs did when they converted the wood waste and scrap from lumber mills into valuable wood panels. Those panels replaced plywood—which had replaced boards formerly cut from old growth trees. Lesson here? In a market process economy, superior substitutes naturally evolve.
We can’t live without some sludge; it’s inherent in living and using products from the earth. While recognizing this, I choose to work in the romance arena. Had I elected to focus on sludge, I’d live in Boston and study its harbor. Instead, I live on a ranch between Bozeman and Yellowstone Park and study my surrounding habitat. Thus, I work in the tradition of America’s first conservationists.
America’s old-line conservation organizations were primarily concerned with the romance sector of their environment, largely with protecting wildlife.
The new rules would make it easier to remove a species from the endangered list and weaken protections for threatened species, the classification one step below endangered. And, for the first time, regulators would be allowed to conduct economic assessments — for instance, estimating lost revenue from a prohibition on logging in a critical habitat — when deciding whether a species warrants protection.
This rule-change does not allow economic impacts to affect whether a species is listed as endangered or threatened. Indeed, the rule explicitly “acknowledge[s] that the statute and its legislative history are clear that listing determinations must be made solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available” according to five statutory factors. Thus, the rule gives the agency no authority to decline to list a species based on the economic impacts of such decision. If the agency attempted to do so, it would violate the statute and the rule.