Attorney Tara Mueller works with the Environmental Law Fund in Oakland, Calif., where she helps grassroots environmental groups monitor Habitat Conservation Plans.
Tara Mueller: "I can't say
that I've ever seen an example of a good HCP. There're so many
places that these plans go awry and become political. The pressure
to capitulate to developers is huge.
central coast plan for Orange County, which Babbitt declared a
win-win, has major problems. The Nature Conservancy, the government
and the other environmentalists got diddly. Out of the 38,000 acres
they proclaim is saved from development, 17,000 is public land and
the majority of the rest the developers had already set aside as
open space mitigation for their developments. The Irvine Company,
which owns most of the remaining coastal scrub, gave up just 3,000
additional acres in exchange for 75 years of freedom from the
Endangered Species Act. We need to get more upfront in these deals
if they are going to give the companies so much
"When we discover that the plans are
failing and won't save the species, we'll have a
savings-and-loan-type crisis. But, believe me, there won't be any
public bailout for the plants and animals. The agency's HCP manual
states that under no circumstances can the government require a
permittee to dedicate more land or restrict his land use or ask him
to pay more to protect endangered species. That only leaves the
option of changing the way the lands already set aside are managed.
"Protecting endangered species is
no different than air quality or water quality or even traditional
land-use regulations. Developers must set aside land for parks,
streets, sewers and other public services. Those are the conditions
of approval for the development. Protecting endangered species
should be no different.
"Proponents say "no
surprises' just shifts the burden to the public should a plan need
to be changed because of new information. Well, show me the money.
Congress won't even approve buyout money for the Headwaters
redwoods grove or the New World Mine near Yellowstone. How's it
going to come up with money to change plans for a small endangered