Citizen Enforcement

The Endangered Species Act
Threats to Citizen Rights

We need a way to empower people and groups to challenge these numerous violations; we need citizen enforcement. Citizen enforcement legislation increases the number of people enforcing the laws, while weak laws without citizen enforcement provisions tend to consolidate power in industry and the entrenched government bureaucracy. A few environmental laws have citizen enforcement provisions that have been used effectively to protect the environment.

Two examples of laws with citizen enforcement provisions are the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. The only natwionwide forest protection bill in the both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate that includes a citizen enforcement is the Act to Save America's Forests, which clearly states than any citizen has standing in court when the law is violated by either the U.S. government or any private citizen or corporation. Furthermore, the Act to Save America's Forests provide for the collection of fees and penalties if the suit is won in favor of the forests.
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The Endangered Species Act

The lack of citizen enforcement provisions in the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA) is one of the main causes of the forest crisis we are now fighting to resolve. NFMA contains environmental sounding provisions, but leaves interpretation of these general environmental goals up to the Forest Service. When confronted in court with instances of forest destruction, the Forest Service simply says either that they are really not destructive, or that they are within the overall parameters for the entire national forest system. For instance, the Forest Service defends clearcutting as not bad, or even necessary. Logging of Ancient Forests is deemed by the Forest Service to be small, relative to the amount of forests remaining. The federal courts usually uphold these interpretations by the Forest. If the Act to Save America's Forests becomes law, clearcutting and logging in Ancient Forests will be banned, leaving no interpretive "wiggle room" for the Forest Service to continue these forms of destruction on our public lands. Citizens will be able to go to court and force the agency to uphold the clear directives in the Act.

The ESA does not provide clear directions to the Forest Service nor to the courts. It allows a scientific panel to decide how little habitat is necessary for the marginal survival of a species, rather than determining what is optimal for the health and long range prospects of that species. No consideration is made for the ecosystem as a whole. Recent amendments to the ESA allow Presidential "God Squads" to decide whether "economic" concerns outweigh the right of a species to be saved from extinction. The inclusion of economic concerns was clearly against the original intent of this law. TOP

Threats to Citizen Rights

Two threats make enforcing the law even more difficult. 1) Conservative judges appointed in the Bush/Reagan years have imposed many anti-environmental judgements. 2) A vanguard of anti-environmental legislators in Congress have attacked our limited rights of citizen appeal and judicial review. These pro-timber members of Congress have promoted legislation to override pro-environmental court decisions under the guise of "streamlining" government, the most infamous law being the "timber salvage rider." They claim that environmental appeals and lawsuits tangle up the business of the administration in "red tape," creating inefficiencies. This argument is a thinly veiled attack on our basic civil rights of due process for protection of the environment. This is an ongoing effort to put the Forest Service and other land management agencies above the rule of environmental law.
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