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Local editorial

Given an inch, taking a mile Some proposed environmental 'reforms' are reaching too far

President Bush won two elections by an inch, but his administration and its Republican allies in Congress persist in wanting to take a mile.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the environmental policy arena. On more than one occasion recently, legislation that reaches far beyond what is reasonable ' or, dare we say, conservative ' has won approval in the House. Only the reluctance of cooler heads in the Senate stands in the way.

Behind much of this action is Rep. Richard Pombo, a Republican rancher from Tracy, Calif., who is determined to dismantle major environmental protections in place for decades in the name of reform. Allied closely with him is Oregon 2nd District Rep. Greg Walden.

Pombo is chairman of the House Resources Committee and sponsor of the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act, which passed the House last month. Walden is a co-sponsor.

Pombo says he wants to make the Endangered Species Act do a better job of helping species recover, while compensating property owners who have to limit the use of their land under the law.

If that sounds familiar to Oregonians, it should. But this isn't just Measure 37 on the federal level. It's Measure 37 on steroids.

— Under Pombo's bill, an owner developing 2,000 acres who was required to set aside, say, 10 percent of that land to protect an endangered species would get a check from the federal government for the profit that 10 percent would have generated ' even if the other 90 percent was highly profitable.

And that's just for starters. Federal fish and wildlife agencies that now must review environmentally harmful projects would be required to accept the developer's assessment of the project's effects, and would be barred from asking for any more information. If the agencies could not determine whether the project violated the Endangered Species Act, the project would automatically proceed.

The Endangered Species Act isn't perfect, and some changes are worth considering. But Pombo's bill sets out to dismantle the act, not improve it.

The endangered species measure faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where moderate Republicans have more clout. But Pombo isn't finished yet.

On Wednesday, his committee passed out a budget reconciliation package that would allow offshore drilling for oil and gas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico much closer to shore than is now permitted, and would authorize oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Meanwhile, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee blocked a Republican-sponsored move to streamline the permit process for new oil refineries, weakening environmental protections in the process. Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., joined Democrats on the panel to stop the bill, arguing that the country should address energy consumption by tightening fuel-efficiency standards before helping the oil industry boost supply.

Now that sounds like a truly conservative approach.