Comptroller Susan Combs Files Motion to Intervene in Endangered Species Lawsuit
(AUSTIN) — As part of her continuing effort to help Texas strike an appropriate balance between environmental protection and economic growth, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs has filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). That suit asks the federal agency to reconsider its recent decision to not list the dunes sagebrush lizard (DSL) as an endangered species.
If successful, the lawsuit filed by Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity could have damaging effects on private property owners, oil and gas producers and agriculture producers, as well as the broader state economy. Combs’ motion, if accepted, will ensure that no ruling is made without input from those who would be directly affected by a DSL listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“Organizations such as Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity file lawsuits that can be very problematic for landowners and local economies,” Combs said. “By filing this motion, I am working to protect vital industries in the Permian Basin and ensure that the stakeholders have a place at the table in any negotiations.”
The dunes sagebrush lizard’s range includes parts of the Permian Basin, a region that accounts for 57 percent of Texas’ total crude oil production and supports 47,000 oil and gas-related jobs, according to the Railroad Commission of Texas. And for every job in oil and gas, three additional jobs are created across the state.
Comptroller Combs is presiding officer of the legislatively created Interagency Task Force on Economic Growth and Endangered Species, which assists local communities and governments with maintaining continued economic growth while they respond to ESA actions.
Combs facilitated the development of a Texas Conservation Plan (TCP) for the DSL, working with a broad group of stakeholders, including private property owners, oil and gas companies, agricultural interests, and state and federal agencies to provide protection for the DSL while allowing continued economic activity in the region. By focusing on these two key elements, stakeholders were able to create an innovative plan that complies with FWS criteria for protection without shutting down important Texas industries.
In June 2012, federal officials cited the TCP as a major reason that the DSL does not warrant listing as a threatened or endangered species. 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.”
The suit against FWS alleges the DSL is not being protected because the TCP is voluntary in nature, and that the partners to the plan are providing too little information to FWS. According to Combs, this is simply not the case.
“I am very proud of the plan the stakeholders developed — it provides protection for the DSL, including much-needed research on the species, while protecting our state economy,” Combs said. “The plan calls for monthly and annual reports in addition to specific safeguards to protect the DSL habitat.”
An open dialogue is maintained with FWS on the plan’s progress. The Comptroller’s office shares aggregated information with FWS both through required monthly and annual reports as well as other communications. The Comptroller’s office and its contractors seek regular input and guidance from FWS, including approval of conservation activities that benefit the DSL. FWS is also partnering with the Comptroller’s office and its contractors in site visits to DSL habitat as part of TCP implementation. Additional information is provided to the public on a Comptroller-run website, www.KeepingTexasFirst.org.
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. These practices include the avoidance or minimization of habitat disturbances as well as conservation activities to offset impacts if disturbances cannot be avoided. The TCP also limits the total amount of acreage of DSL habitat that can be disturbed over the plan’s lifetime, with stricter limits in the first three years.
“Texas’ economy is strong, and the state is well ahead of the national job market,” Combs said. “This can be attributed in part to our emphasis on preserving private property rights and creating a regulatory environment in which industry can thrive.”
Copies of today’s court filings in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia can be found at http://www.window.state.tx.us/news2013/pdf/.
Join the discussion and connect with the Texas Comptroller on Facebook for the latest economic news, surveys and more.
Follow us on Twitter! Get quick Comptroller news and information you need to do business in Texas.