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Environmental groups celebrating Pombo defeat

The election of California’s Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House and third in line for the presidency and Nevada’s Harry Reid as Senate majority leader may have captured the headlines.

But the biggest development for farmers and ranchers from the Nov. 7 election may have been the defeat of House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo at the hands of environmental groups.

Pombo, a rancher from Tracy, Calif., wrote the Endangered Species Reform Act, a bill that would have changed many of the 30-year-old ESA’s rules for the better, according to Pombo, and led to the loss of endangered species protection, according to detractors.

Pombo pushed the bill through the House late in 2005, but the Senate has not taken up the legislation.

ESA reform was one of several issues that had drawn the wrath of the environmental groups. Pombo’s support of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the development of oil shale and more oil exploration in coastal waters were others.

But Endangered Species Act reform could have had the biggest impact on farmers. Now that appears to have little chance of happening as Democrats take control of the House and Senate.

Pombo’s bill promised incentives to encourage landowners to be more proactive in endangered species conservation rather than viewing them as a threat to their survival. But environmental groups said lack of funding for those incentives would have stopped Endangered Species Act enforcement.

Defenders of Wildlife, the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club pumped $1.3 million into the campaign of Democrat Jerry McNerney, who lost to Pombo in 2004. This time McNerney, a wind energy consultant with a doctorate in math, won with 53 percent.

“We did this to send a signal,” said Mark Longabaugh, political director for Defenders of Wildlife. “The environment matters and the environmental movement can marshal resources and defeat its enemies. It says you should think twice before you try to drill the Arctic, drill off the coast or give away land to the mining industry.”

For Pombo, the issue was personal. He once told a group of Arizona farmers that he ran for Congress because a fellow rancher in California committed suicide after his operation was targeted in an endangered species lawsuit.

With Pombo out, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., is in line to chair the House Resources Committee. Rahall’s votes have won a 92 percent approval rating from the League of Conservation Voters.

The leadership change in the House Agriculture Committee could be less jarring. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat, has introduced legislation to extend the current farm bill for one to two years and has fought for disaster assistance legislation.

On the Senate side, Tom Harkin’s tenure as Agriculture Committee chairman could prove to be interesting. The Iowa native has been a strong supporter of the current farm bill but will probably make full funding for the Conservation Security Program, which he authored, a major priority.


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