Concern over the environment and endangered species has become a national obsession over the past several decades, and that concern has spawned a whole host of laws and policies aimed at regulating land and animal use in order to protect endangered species fragile habitats. The most important of these is undoubtedly the Endangered Species Act (ESA), whose purpose is just that: to protect endangered species. The passage of the ESA 30 years ago was created with the purest of motives - but it's provisions have provided wedges for environmental groups to exercise tremendous influence over how both public and private land is used, irrespective of cost.
In fact, where the ESA is concerned, the "cost/benefit" calculation is biased heavily in favor of alledged benefit (benefit is always defined in terms of environmental preservation), while the costs incurred to achieve that alledged benefit are most often deemed unimportant. In other words, "alledged benefit" is regarded as an absolute good, "cost" as irrelevant.
Enter the Property and Environment Resource Center (PERC) and a study they conducted which they, and the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), claim reveals that the costs of the ESA have been grossly underreported.
Sacramento,CA; April 14, 2004: Pacific Legal Foundation today called for a true accounting of the Endangered Species Act, pointing to a study released today showing that billions of dollars in costs spent enforcing and complying with the ESA are not being reported to Congress or the American people. The study, Accounting for Species: Calculating the True Costs of the
Endangered Species Act, was conducted by the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC). PERC researchers found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) grossly underreported federal and state ESA costs in its recent report to Congress, and completely ignored the private economic and social costs of ESA compliance, which together easily total billions of dollars a year. . . .
PERC researchers found that the FWS report does not provide an accurate or comprehensive assessment of the true costs of the ESA. . . . .
a.. Not Reported: Actual costs to taxpayers; only estimates are provided. . . .
b.. Not Reported: Government-wide costs. . . .
c.. Not Reported: Costs to taxpayers of litigating ESA cases. . . .
d.. Not Reported: Costs to state and local entities of implementing species recovery. . . .
e.. Not Reported: Additional costs to local governments from ESA-caused interference with building schools, hospitals, roads, and other infrastructure projects. . . .
f.. Not Reported: Costs to private landowners. 75% of all listed species have portions or all of their habitat on privately owned land . . .
g.. Not Reported: Private costs such as development projects being denied, delayed, or their scope reduced, which result in higher home prices. . . .
h.. Not Reported: Economic and social costs from regulatory burdens placed on agricultural production, water use, forest management, and mineral extraction. . . .
i.. Not Reported: Lost jobs, lost business, and lost tax revenue. FWS does not report the costs of ESA regulation that causes reduced or terminated business activities, increased costs to provide services, reduced personal income and tax revenues, property devaluation, and costs of public assistance provided to individuals who have lost jobs. . . .
j.. Not Reported: Costs of protecting foreign species. The report does not include taxpayer dollars spent on protecting species in foreign countries. . . .
Plus, it doesn't seem that the ESA is really saving all that many endangered species:
According to the FWS, as of December, 2003, 1,260 U.S. species were listed as endangered and only 15 have been delisted. However, PERC reports that the majority of the 15 delisted species were delisted because of original listing data errors, such as inaccurate government surveys that undercount a species later found to never have been endangered. Other species were conserved by state agencies or private organizations.
There's much more flesh to this story, and you should devour the whole thing (it's available as a PDF File here). If the study is anywhere close to being right, this is a scandal. Until proven otherwise, I'm taking this study at face value. It just fits too well with what I've come to expect: that when it comes to environmentalism, there is an intrinsic absolute good in preserving in pristine condition a piece of land or protecting an endangered species, and that that absolute good trumps more mundane considerations of cost.