House passes Pombo bill to overhaul Endangered Species Act

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would overhaul — critics say gut — the Endangered Species Act. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), passed on a 229 to 193 vote that didn’t break down along traditional party lines: 34 Republicans (largely East Coast and Midwest moderates) rejected it, while 36 Democrats (many from the rural West and South) supported it. Pombo’s bill — the culmination of his 12-year drive to gut the ESA — includes mandated federal payments to private landowners if the presence of an endangered species limits development on their land, and dismantles current provisions for designating critical habitat to help endangered critters and plants recover. The legislation faces a cool reception in the Senate, where moderate Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), chair of the subcommittee overseeing the ESA, says taking up the measure is not on his agenda for the year. The Bush administration, however, affirmed its support for the bill hours before the vote.