Policy: Environment & Energy

How the Sage Grouse and Prairie Chicken could end the U.S. energy boom

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Mark Tapscott,Morning Examiner,EPA,Energy and Environment,Oil,Endangered Species Act

Federal officials often use flawed or falsified data to support decisions to expand the endangered species list, according to a recently published congressional working group report.

“Many reports and studies used to justify ESA decisions have been found to have mathematical errors, missing data, errors of omission, biased sampling, undocumented methods, simulated data in place of more accurate empirical data, discrepancies between reported results and data, inaccurate mapping, selective use of data, subjective interpretation of results, fabricated data substituted for missing data, and even no data at all,” the Washington Examiner reported in a Feb. 3 news story.

The working group report was researched, written and published by 13 members of the House of Representatives, led by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings of Washington state.

Perils of 'secret science'

A major reason for the wide use of flawed or falsified data by federal environmental policymakers, according to the report, is that most of the underlying science is too often kept behind closed doors.

Forcing federal officials at the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, to make public their underlying scientific justifications for policy decisions is often all but impossible.

That inaccessibility makes it impossible for the public to hold accountable either the policymakers or the providers of the flawed or falsified data for the consequences of their decisions.

The 'so what'

Now comes news federal officials are nearing a decision to add more than 700 new species to the endangered list between now and 2018.

Inclusion of two of the species involved — the Sage Grouse and Prairie Chicken, both found predominantly in western states, including Texas and the Dakotas — could halt the U.S. energy boom in its tracks.

Why? Because putting the birds on the endangered species list empowers federal bureaucrats to limit use of millions of acres of privately owned lands, thus effectively taking them out of energy exploration and development.

Whether adding them to the endangered species list is the proper course of action is disputed in part because federal officials have yet to make public all of the underlying justifications on which they are basing their actions.

The situation provides yet another illustration of the maxim that the public loses when government makes policy in private. To read the full ESA working group report, go here.

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