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“Wild and Wonderful,” Not “Paved and Pretty Good”

June 21, 2012

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    Robert M Reynolds

6/21/12 - On June 19, 2012, Lewis & Clark law professor and PEAC attorney Dan Rohlf testified before Congress and gave a spirited defense of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and environmental citizen suits, often in the face of hostile questioning from House Republicans. Professor Rohlf’s testimony came as part of a panel before the House’s Natural Resources Committee during a hearing neutrally-titled “Taxpayer-Funded Litigation: Benefiting Lawyers and Harming Species, Jobs and Schools.” His initial testimony highlighted the importance of having outside organizations like PEAC also working to protect critical habitats and keep national agencies accountable, all of which is made possible by attorneys’ fee awards when plaintiffs prevail. Contrary to the picture painted by other witnesses in the hearing, Professor Rohlf stressed that the motivation for environmental attorneys has never been a lucrative salary but rather the belief that, “stopping pollution and protecting our wildlife are the most important things they do.” During the Q&A session, Professor Rohlf more than stood his ground, deftly fielding loaded questions from Republican committee members designed to advance their anti-ESA agenda. 

Instead of focusing on ESA/EAJA attorneys’ fees, Professor Rohlf told the committee that if it really wanted to help endangered species, Congress should adequately fund the listing agencies so they can address the backlog of listing petitions and appropriate money for recovery efforts for listed species. “While the Committee stacked the deck against the ESA and citizen enforcement, it is hard to mask the truth no matter how many witnesses present a distorted view of the environmental and economic importance of protecting biodiversity,” said Rohlf. The ESA and environmental citizen suits came under attack from Professor Rohlf’s three fellow panelists—and two members of Congress who testified on the hearing’s first panel—so Professor Rohlf provided the only voice for the record in defense of the ESA. At one point, in order to remind the panel that Americans value wildness and its importance for economic growth, Professor Rohlf reminded them that West Virginia’s motto to attract tourism is “Wild and Wonderful” not “Paved and Pretty Good.” The ESA could not have asked for a better advocate.

Read or listen to the testimony.

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