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Don't Mess With West Texas Or Eastern New Mexico


I just sent a comment to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regarding its proposal to list the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard (DSL) on the “endangered” list of the Endangered Species Act, and I feel great about it. Absolutely great! After I pressed the “enter” button on my computer and sent this comment to the FWS, I celebrated by eating a third of a roll of raw Christmas cookie dough instead of baking these cookies for an up-coming Christmas party. My friends at the party will understand – this was done in the name of something big!

My comment to the FWS can be found here. I encourage everyone in west Texas and eastern New Mexico to submit a similar comment (either e-mail or snail-mail) to the FWS by using this link. Your jobs and economy are at stake. All comments are due by January 19, 2012.

In fact, you don’t even need to live in west Texas or eastern New Mexico to submit a comment to the FWS. You can write as an American who will be affected by such a ruling. And believe me, if this little lizard is listed as “endangered,” we will all be affected in a big way.

Here is how it works: some critter somewhere gets listed as endangered, and the US government springs into action. To stop everyone else’s actions.

In this case, this lizard hangs out in a small bush called the shinnery oak tree and sleeps in the sands nearby. This lizard seems to live only in an oil-rich part of the country (oil exploration companies, take note), specifically the Permian Basin area of west Texas and eastern New Mexico. There have been previous efforts to list this lizard as endangered, and last year a formal proposal was made to do just that. The proposal was originally to be acted on by this month, but Senators Cornyn and Inhofe wrote a letter to the Interior Department, which prompted new deadlines for this proposal, including the new comment deadline.

An endangered listing for the DSL would ruin the oil drilling industry in the Permian Basin, that area of west Texas and eastern New Mexico that produces about 20% of all the oil from the lower 48 states and 5% of total oil produced in the US. The oil produced there also constitutes 68% of all oil produced in the state of Texas.

The FWS proposal itself, found here, contemplates not only denying all new oil-drilling permits, but curtailing current oil drilling, seismic testing and even operating oil pipelines in the area. All these activities supposedly disrupt the DSL, possibly leading to its extinction.

“But wouldn’t that be economically disastrous?” you might ask. Of course it would, but don’t think it won’t happen anyway. Anyone who has driven along Interstate 5 in California has seen the results of the efforts to save the obscure Delta Smelt fish, a small, 4-inch long fish that can’t swim very well and gets sucked into pumping stations of the California Aqueduct. In 2007 a federal judge ordered the aqueduct water pumps to be seasonally shut off to protect this fish. The result: dead farms as far as the eye can see along I-5. Up to 1 million dried up acres of Central California farmland, tens of thousands of unemployed farm workers, billions of dollars in losses, unemployment rates as high as 35% in some farming communities, and higher food prices across the US. But look at the bright side: while the population of this fish may not have rebounded to its pre-Aqueduct numbers, it at least has a little more respect in the animal kingdom.

Not only should everyone write a comment to the FWS, but we should also get all local congressmen and senators to get involved. In the 1970’s there was a small fish called the snail darter found in the area of an almost-completed dam in Tennessee. When the snail darter was listed as endangered, construction of the dam was halted. Senator Howard Baker got involved and doggedly pursued an amendment to the ESA law, and the dam was allowed to be completed once the fish was transplanted. There is no reason why today’s Washington representatives from Texas and New Mexico could not raise a similar stink over the DSL issue.

Another victory of sorts for industry happened recently when a solar farm encroached on the habitat of a threatened tortoise in the Mojave Desert near Needles, California. After the company involved, BrightSource Energy, agreed to a cordoned-off area for the tortoise the project was given the go-ahead by the FWS. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the chairman of BrightSource has been a long-time contributor to Democrats and that BrightSource has a guaranteed government loan ($1.6 billion) even bigger than the loan guarantee for Solyndra.

But the complaint from a BrightSource detractor was telling. “I don’t even know why we have an Endangered Species Act at this point. The directive has come down from the very top of the Interior Department that we’re building these projects regardless of their impact on the environment,” said Chris Clarke, co-founder Solar Done Right. “To say that killing hundreds, perhaps thousands of tortoises on this site won’t jeopardize the species is absolutely crazy.”

Call me cynical, but I suspect that the standard applied to the Permian Basin oil-well drillers will be different from the standard applied to the Brightsource solar developers. Maybe the Permian Basin folks should consider installing some solar panels near their oil wells.

So dear reader, won’t you send your own comment to the FWS? You might not be able to refer to the movie Giant, and vineyards in medieval Norway, like my letter did, but send something off today! If you don’t send a comment, don’t be surprised to find your name on the naughty list, deserving lumps of coal.


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