New religious group advocates environmentalism
Three University professors have joined a newly-formed alliance created to oppose a proposed Congressional bill that would change the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The Noah Alliance, a partnership of Jews and evangelical Christians, issued concurrent statements by the Academy of Evangelical Scientists and Ethicists and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life opposing the bill. Signatories include rabbis, a Nobel laureate and 30 prominent Jewish scientists, as well as ecology and evolutionary biology professors David Wilcove, Daniel Rubenstein and Simon Levin.
Wilcove, who is affiliated with the Wilson School, said he hopes the religious slant of the Alliance will "appeal to people who are primarily motivated by their religious faith to consider what their religion may say about obligations to protect species on Earth."
He added that he is troubled that the proposed changes create "all sorts of bureaucratic hurdles for the [U.S.] Fish and Wildlife [Service] to go through before it can properly protect an endangered species, and it does not provide them with any additional resources to do the job."
Changes to the 32-year-old ESA were proposed in the House Committee on Human Resources by Richard Pombo (R-CA). The proposals were passed in committee on Thursday with a vote of 26-12, and may be voted on in the House as early as this week.
Proponents say the changes will better protect property rights of landowners whose practices affect endangered species, give a greater role to local and state officials enforcing the act and encourage voluntary conservation efforts.
Critics counter that the bill will significantly dilute laws meant to protect endangered species by making their enforcement more difficult and allowing a political appointee, the Secretary of the Interior, to evaluate the scientific studies upon which decisions are based.
The Secretary of the Interior might say that there is not enough data on a particular species and use this as a stalling technique for politically motivated reasons, said Suellen Lowry, program director of the Noah Alliance.
Levin, a University professor who is a member of the Alliance, said that he supported the Coalition statement because he is concerned by "proposals that would obstruct science" and that "allow political appointees to decide which science informs policy."
Levin said he is concerned as a scientist, as a citizen and especially as a member of the Jewish community.
"Judaism emphasizes ethical issues and protection of our environment — our obligation not to spoil it for selfish gains," he said. Congress should strive to avoid the "intrusion of political considerations" into efforts to preserve biological diversity, he added.
Many signatories to the COEJL statement are not in disagreement with all of the proposed changes. Levin does not object to the move to compensate landowners who cannot use their land to its full production capacity because of ESA restrictions.
Wilcove feels differently.
"It's a dreadful bill in all respects," he said, adding that he's troubled that it "provides an easy way for developers to not only get out of the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, but to actually be compensated for any possible limitations that the act could place on their use of the land."
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