Arizona Lawmakers Try to Undermine the Endangered Species Act

In case all the ocelots, jaguars, and Mexican spotted owls are starting to feel too safe, the Arizona Committee on Military Affairs and Public Safety is stepping in, having passed a memorial to modify the rules and provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

SCM 1009 encourages Congress to exempt U.S. military bases and training facilities from complying with the ESA because the 42-year-old act "has caused some training activities to be canceled, postponed or modified . . . [and] forced military officials to make adjustments to training regimens."

"The Endangered Species Act is one of the most popular and effective environmental laws ever passed, and it's a real shame and embarrassment that the Arizona Legislature feels compelled to attack it in such a misleading way," Randy Serraglio, from the Center for Biological Diversity, wrote in an email to New Times.

He also noted that "during the Bush years, the DOD concluded that environmental laws do not hinder military preparedness. The fact that the Arizona Legislature is trying to provide DOD with a special status that they neither need nor seek indicates that our legislators are simply engaging in political grandstanding by gratuitously bashing the ESA."

Yes, you read that correctly, the U.S. military has made no indication that it struggles to comply with the law. In fact, according to SCM 1009 itself, "since 2003, the Department of Defense has obtained exemptions from three environmental laws and sought exemptions from three others." (So six out of how many thousands of military training activities?)

But back at the Legislature, that fact didn't seem to matter. Representative Noel Campbell praised the memorial for helping the military avoid "[jumping] through hoops." He added that given "the times we live in, it's imperative that [the military] not have to stop and think about whether an artillery barrage will harm an endangered species."

Sure, a lot of people like to wave the national security card, but isn't it a bit strange to give the military a power it never asked for?

"It's pretty clear that they can fulfill their mission and abide by the ESA," said Sandy Bahr, director of the Arizona Chapter of the Sierra Club, when she spoke out against the memorial. "The military can work within the ESA," and in fact "often promotes what they do on their bases [for the environment]."

Furthermore, Bahr says, "there already exists in laws a way for the military to get an exemption for national security."

"Just because there is an exemption doesn't mean it will happen quickly," Representative Kelly Townsend shot back.

While we were hoping for a good ol' fashion rumble at the Capitol, what went down from there was a quick -- albeit feisty -- discussion about the merits of the ESA, before the committee passed the memorial 5-3.

"As usual when it comes to the Arizona Legislature on this issue, this [proposal] has little to do with reality or common sense," wrote Serraglio.

Thankfully, it's just a memorial, which is basically a glorified letter of request.

Got a tip? Send it to: Miriam Wasser.

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser