Statement of Senator Jon S. Corzine
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Water
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you for holding this hearing on one of our most important environmental laws, the Endangered Species Act.
Mr. Chairman, extinction is occurring at alarming rates worldwide. The World Conservation Union estimates that current global extinction rates are between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the normal background extinction rate. And extinction rates are increasing rather than decreasing.
Here in the U.S., we are doing better than many places, but we still have a pressing problem. More than 1,200 species are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, more than 200 species are awaiting listing decisions, and some scientific experts believe that as many as 3,000 U.S. species may require protection under the ESA.
These are daunting statistics. For me, they put into focus the reasons why we need to continue to work to protect our natural heritage.
From an ecological standpoint, there is still much we do not know about how our planet works and what is important to keeping it healthy. Aldo Leopold, in his seminal environmental work, A Sand County Almanac, observed that “the first rule of an intelligent tinkerer is to keep all of the pieces.” Mr. Chairman, we are losing pieces here and abroad, and we do not understand the consequences.
From an economic standpoint, I observe that less than scientists have studied less than one percent of the world’s species extensively. The potential of these unstudied species to provide medicines, food, and other benefits to humankind is vast, unknown and untapped.
Finally, I believe we owe it to our grandchildren and their grandchildren to hand them down a world rich in the biological diversity that we have inherited. A planet poorer in wildlife is a planet diminished, and we owe it to our heirs to preserve what we can.
So, for all these reasons, Mr. Chairman, I strongly support the goals of the Endangered Species Act and want to look for ways to strengthen it and make it more effective.
Today’s hearing will focus on the listing and delisting processes under the Act, and I want to make several comments about these processes.
First, some will suggest that the listing process is not based on sound science. I disagree. If you look at the history of the listing process, less than one percent of species that have been listed or proposed for listing have been withdrawn because they their listing was backed by incomplete data. That is an extremely low error rate, and does not suggest a systematic problem with the role of science in the listing process. I think that one reason for this is that peer-review is built into the listing process, which ensures that independent scientists review the information that the government relies on.
Second, I have heard the suggestion that the listing process is secretive. That the data behind the listings are not available. This is simply not the case. The administrative record for a listing includes all relevant data, how the data supports listing, and the comments of the peer reviewers. All of this information is available to anyone who wants to see it.
Finally, I want to address ESA funding. Simply put, ESA has suffered from chronic underfunding. The listing program is no exception. Unfortunately, the President’s budget does not remedy this problem. Rather than limiting the ability of citizens to participate in the ESA process, as the budget proposes, we should provide the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service with the resources they need to do the job right.
With that, I conclude my remarks, and look forward to the testimony of our witnesses.