What Price the Endangered Species Act?

In 1973 when President Nixon signed into law the Endangered Species Act, which had been passed by a bipartisan vote in Congress, everyone doubtlessly conceived it would protect valued species like the bald eagle, the California condor, the grizzly bear, humpback whale, and the peregrine falcon. I doubt that anyone imagined it would destroy so much of the West’s economy; allow opportunistic groups to kill or substantially delay and raise the cost of needed water and energy projects to save insignificant creatures which in the end thrived after transplanting them; contribute to massive forest fires; and end up killing off one species to save another.

That, however, is just what has happened. The Trump administration tried to rectify the worst features of the regulations under the act and the present administration has rescinded them. Three examples show the operation of the act and its need for reformation.

The Snail Darter

The first use of the act to kill or delay a major project was the Tellico Dam/snail darter case. It became a template for every green group trying to prevent major construction projects. In 1967 efforts to create the TVA’s Tellico Dam for water storage in Tennessee began. A group led by a professor at the University of Tennessee tried to halt the project when it was 90 percent completed because it claimed the project endangered the snail darter population. This is a small fish (about 2 to 3 inches) and it was claimed that the dam blocked its migratory route. The litigation went to the Supreme Court which held the act applied. Various legislative remedies were attempted until finally a public works appropriation exempted Tellico from the act . President Carter signed that law in 1980 and the project, long delayed at considerable cost went into effect. As for the snail darter, this year it has been taken off the list of endangered species, transplant efforts having succeeded.

 TVA’s contribution to the reservoir and peninsula supports about 1,800 jobs and $137 million in capital investment annually as a result of economic development efforts led by the Tellico Reservoir Development Agency. As for the snail darter, the fish was reclassified from endangered to threatened in 1984 and now thrives throughout the Tennessee River system.

But the case law proved useful for any group desiring to block contemplated projects.

The Meadow Jumping Mouse

This is a tiny long-tailed mouse able jump as much as three feet. It is found in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. In 2014 it was listed as endangered and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service designated 14,000 acres in these three states as “critical habitat” for the mouse, substantially reducing livestock grazing on this land. Understandably the ranchers sought injunctive relief, contending this designation would contribute to their costs, endanger the cattles’ health and lower property values. The federal courts rejected their claims.

The Spotted Owl

To save the spotted owl, a medium-sized brown bird, the act was employed to destroy California’s timber industry by preventing logging on millions of acres of forest, and in the process led to the state’s massive wildfires because the demand that the trees remain untouched created substantial tinder for such fires.

From 1988 to 2011... the number of wildfires in California “increased by seven large fires annually.” It is no coincidence that 1988 was the year the spotted owl received protection. Over the past five years the wildfire situation has grown even worse. Seven of the deadliest fires in state history have occurred in that period. The state’s annual fire season now extends from June or July into late fall.

The wildfires have gotten wilder too—bigger, deadlier, harder to contain and put out. Last year’s Dixie Fire laid waste to a million acres of land, earning the unhappy title of California’s biggest fire. And, as with all these major conflagrations, it spread smoke up and down the state, darkening skies and poisoning the air.

Now some of the environmentalists have switched gears, and want “controlled burns, selective thinning of drought-ridden trees and underbrush”—i.e, competent forest management. Unfortunately, in killing the lumber industry there are now fewer loggers and sawmills to handle the job. as for the spotted owl, it has a new threat: barred owls have invaded their territory and are being culled to save the spotted owls. If we cull too many of them, will they, too, go on the endangered list ?

The destruction of so many lives and livelihoods in an effort to reach environmental stasis—an impossibility—is ridiculous. We need a stronger application of cost-benefit analysis; the Trump administration made that effort in 2019, revising the rules to place greater weight on the act’s economic consequences. It raised the standard for designating areas as “critical habitats” that are not currently inhabited by protected species . It set stricter standards on adding species from the legislation's protections and made it easier to remove them from it. It permitted agencies to make economic assessments when deciding which species to protect regarding construction projects in critical habitats, and it limited the unmanageable and costly delays a cumbersome consultation process had set in place.

Very quickly the new administration set about removing these revised regulations. On July 5th of this year a federal district court restored three of the pre-Trump regulations. On July 22 the administration removed the last of the Trump revisions.

Maybe it we can find something like rare pink spotted cockroaches in the critical habitats of San Francisco, New York City and Washington, D.C., businesses and offices we can make Democrats cognizant of the need to restore the prior administration’s regulatory revisions.

The Swamp Strikes Back

Joe Biden has started to announce appointments to key roles in his administration should he be inaugurated in January. He finds himself constrained by the unexpected failure of his party thus far to retake the senate and its reduced majority in the House.

Consequently, it doesn't look like we will be seeing Elizabeth Warren at Treasury, Bernie Sanders at Labor, or -- a popular rumor over the past few weeks -- Hillary Clinton as Ambassador to the United Nations. But instead of those ideological actors, we're getting mostly career political staffers and bureaucrats, aka the Swamp.

The big fish thus far is longtime Biden ally Antony Blinken for Secretary of State. Blinken -- the son of wealthy investment banker and Clinton-era Ambassador Donald Blinken -- served as then-Vice President Biden's national security adviser before being promoted to Deputy Secretary of State by Barack Obama. He is also a Russia hoax-supporter and an ardent champion of the kind of hawkish foreign policy which Trump ran against in 2016. As The American Conservative's Curt Mills wrote this morning, the worry about Blinken isn't so much that he's a "wild-eyed radical," but that "his policy views are emblematic of a broader rot within the American establishment."

The same could be said for the the other intended appointments announced on Monday, including former Foreign Service Director General Linda Thomas-Greenfield to the U. N. and former Hillary Clinton foreign policy advisor Jake Sullivan. The latter, as you might have guessed from his relationship with Mrs. Clinton, is another hawk, but he is also noteworthy for having had a hand in secretly negotiating the Iran deal, which the U. S. has since backed out of.

Environmentalist groups are upset by the potential appointments of both Sullivan and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who Biden has announced as a senior advisor, as both are reportedly skeptical of their cause. Sullivan appears in one of the leaked Clinton E-Mails questioning the idea that carbon neutrality by 2050 is at all realistic. As for Rep. Richmond, environmentalists are concerned by his closeness with oil and gas in his home state of Louisiana. The Sunrise Movement, an environmentalist activist group, put out a statement opposing his appointment which read,

One of President-Elect Biden’s very first hires for his new administration has taken more donations from the fossil fuel industry during his Congressional career than nearly any other Democrat, cozied up to Big Oil and Gas, and stayed silent and ignored meeting with organizations in his own community while they suffered from toxic pollution and sea-level rise.

Now, should those of us who are concerned about the resource sector as a source of good jobs and safe, reliable (and clean) energy be encouraged by these appointments? Probably not. There's a civil war brewing on the left, which has been held in check until recently by shared loathing for Donald Trump. Though Biden might feel forced staff up with conventional swamp creatures, before too long he will feel the need to satisfy the loudest lefties in his caucus. Short sighted as they might be, carbon taxes and increasing restrictions on fracking are the easiest bones he can throw them.

Of course, for the Greens, those would only whet the appetite.

Gettysburg, 2020

On three hot days in early July, 1863, Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and the federal Army of the Potomac under George Meade collided, almost accidentally, at a small town in southern Pennsylvania called Gettysburg. The result was an epic struggle that cost the lives of thousands of soldiers on both sides and determined the course of the American Civil War.

Gettysburg was the high-water mark of the Confederacy, which effectively ended with the near-suicidal Pickett's Charge, a stunning blunder by Lee who ordered his troops to march across a field and into the teeth of the Union rifles and cannons. The South never seriously threatened the North again, but there was even worse news for the rebels to come: at the same time Gettysburg was being fought Ulysses S. Grant was capturing the seemingly impregnable fortress of Vicksburg in Mississippi. Soon enough, Grant would be on his way east, to finally put the insurrection of the Southern Democrats down.

Once again, Pennsylvania finds itself at the center of our current Cold Civil War, which all year has been flickering hot. The Keystone State is the lynchpin of both President Trump's and Joe Biden's electoral-college strategies, and its 20 electoral votes may well prove to be dispositive at the end.

Going into today's vote, this is what my electoral map looks like:

Trump won Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes by just 44,000 votes in 2016, which presaged his wins in Michigan and Wisconsin and his narrow defeat in Minnesota. The state's rabid leftist attorney general, Josh Shapiro, has already declared that Biden will win -- by any means necessary:

To that end, look for typical Democrat chicanery in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, which is reportedly already going on. The polls from the ferociously anti-Trump media have been designed to discourage Republican voters. Going into the vote today, if you believe what you read in the newspapers and see on television, things look bleak for Trump -- and this despite the fact that he's running against a senile, corrupt old man who is simply being used by the Democrats in order to install the Manchurian Candidate, Kamala Harris.

"Bayonets!"

Things looked bleak for the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Little Round Top on the second day at Gettysburg. Defending the hill, his men out of ammunition, Col. Joshua Chamberlain did the only thing he could in the face of an advancing Alabama regiment. "Bayonets!" he shouted and led his men down the hill to scatter the startled Confederates and save the day for the Union.

The radical Democrats have gambled everything on Campaign 2020. They are out and proud as the anti-American Party, the party of rioters, the party of impeachment, the party of the Russian collusion hoax, the weaponizers of the Covid-19 panic. From the moment Trump won election four years ago, they have waged unceasing war on him, on our political system, and our country.

Gettysburg ended on July 3. The next day, the torn nation defiantly celebrated the anniversary of its independence.

It's time to save the Union once more. Vote.

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Media

As the saying goes, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. There’s also a corollary: properly used, statistics don’t lie. But when selectively abused, statistics are meaningless.  The kerfuffle that followed President Trump’s interview with Jonathan Swan which aired on HBO earlier this week is yet another example of the phenomenon.

Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfuss was among those who weighed in on the interview. Dutifully following the “orange-man bad” narrative, a Dreyfuss Tweet seemed to imply a belief that Swan had a masterful command of meaningful pandemic statistics, while President Trump was basically clueless:

What made the president a fool and Swan a genius? Trump highlighted the statistical fact that the United States has been more effective in curing, aka reducing the death rate, among Americans who are diagnosed with COVID-19 than most of the rest of the world. This is clearly a testament to the effectiveness of our overall health care system in treating infectious and potentially fatal diseases.

Swan highlighted the statistical fact that more Americans have died of COVID-19 exposure per capita than have died as a percentage of population when compared to nations like Germany and South Korea. Though he didn’t directly say so, Swan clearly implied that this statistic was far more important than the statistic President Trump had mentioned.

Trump disagreed with Swan’s analysis: “You can’t do that,” he said.

“Why can’t I do that?” Swan responded, rudely.

At this point, neither party to this discussion displayed any sort of expertise about how to properly interpret statistics. Trump was stumbling, but so would every other President at this level of detail, going back to at least Eisenhower. American presidents are not masters of detail. Moreover, can anyone honestly believe that Joe Biden could get to that part of so nuanced of a discussion without his head exploding or threatening to punch somebody?

I believe the point Trump was attempting to make was that it is unsound scientifically to use the per capita death rate as the metric with which to judge the effectiveness of the administration’s response to the pandemic. If that is indeed the correct interpretation of “you can’t do that,” then the President’s point is valid.

If the death rate per person infected is relatively low, but the death rate per capita is higher, then the infection rate is the driver. Consider an example: Both Group A and Group B consist of one million individuals each, each demographically similar to the other. In Group A 100,000 get infected, while 20,000 of the infected sub-group die. The mortality rate per capita is 2%, while the mortality rate per infection is 20%. In Group B 50,000 people get infected, while 15,000 of the infected die. The mortality rate per capita is 1.5% and the mortality rate per infection is 30%. Infections are more prevalent in Group A, but treatment of the infection is much better in Group A than in Group B.

Or, let’s look at the following real-world analogy. In many developing countries the motor vehicle fatality rate per capita is far lower than it is in the United States. Does that mean it’s safer to drive in those nations? No, it means they have fewer cars. When you look at a meaningful statistic – deaths per motor vehicle – the fatality rate in most of the very same developing countries far exceeds that of the United States. As anyone who's ever driven in the Third World knows.

Per capita statistics are thus rarely useful analytical tools when considered in a vacuum. One must understand the underlying causes and how those causes may or may not be influenced before citing a per capita stat. In the case of COVID-19 there are at least two important underlying variables that should factor into any analysis: infection rate and treatment effectiveness.

Clearly, infection rates vary by state because the individual states have been driving different isolation and protection policies at varying speeds and implementing different “get back to normal” recovery programs as well. If Swan believes that the Administration could have and should have done something to implement a national isolation policy and national recovery policy, he should have said so.

Could the Trump administration have done something like that? I don’t see how. The states would scream bloody murder if he tried to interfere with them. The President can’t even get blue states to disperse riotous mobs occupying the streets of major American cities. Any attempt by this administration to impose rigid standards involving public gatherings and personal interactions would have been denounced as a violation of federalism and widely ignored.

It’s clear that stemming the spread of COVID-19 is about isolation and protective gear. The highest rate of new infections is now among the 20-29 year old demographic, many of whom ignore such restrictions. That’s understandable. They are at relatively low risk of dying even if they do catch it, and most of us who remember our twenties will recall that following rules – even rules meant to protect you – are not a high priority at that time of life. But this development emphasizes the simple fact that the infection rate part of the per capita mortality rate equation is about personal behavior, not national policy.

Among the parts of the equation that the administration could and did address was providing care for the sick and protection for health care workers. From getting Ford to produce ventilators, to ensuring there was an equitable distribution of face masks among the states in the early days of the pandemic, the Trump administration focused on those things it could do to facilitate research, to ensure that health care facilities were not overwhelmed, and to save as many lives of the infected as possible. Certainly the states and numerous organizations both public and private played a huge role in the success of that effort, but it’s petty partisanship at its worst to pretend that the president’s actions were unimportant or somehow misguided.

Sadly, Jonathan Swan’s abuse of statistics is business as usual for the legacy media these days. He focused on a statistic over which the Trump had no practical control, presumably because it made the president look bad, while ignoring the stat that demonstrated how effective the administration has been in helping to address those parts of the pandemic it actually could influence.