Delta Smelt: Canary in the Coal Mine?

San Jose Mercury News

Nossaman Partner, Rob Thornton, is quoted in this San Jose Mercury News article as an expert on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) which he helped write revisions to while serving as counsel to Congress in the late 1970’s. The article discusses the recent shut down of the Sate Water Project in the Sacramento Delta due to the potential impact on an endangered species of fish, the delta smelt. The water pumps that were shut down provided 25 million Californians with drinking water and there has been speculation that water shortages could result.

Mr. Thornton is quoted as saying, When Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, everyone was focused on saving the bald eagle, the whooping crane, the wolf. That's what was sold to Congress. But the act defined species to mean all species of fish and wildlife and plants.

I don't contest at all the purpose of the act to protect biodiversity," Mr. Thornton continued. That's an important societal value. I just wish society as a whole would contribute, rather than just the farmer or developer or timber community. His comments reference the fact that the ESA does not allow for consideration of economic impact to businesses and landowners when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service is deciding whether or not to list a species as endangered.

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