Is the Obama administration protecting lizards at expense of jobs?
A little lizard is creating big concerns for Texas.
The Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, also known as the Sand Dune Lizard, inhabits the Permian Basin, one of America’s top energy producing regions. It contains more than 20 of the nation’s top 100 oil fields and, in the counties identified with lizard habitat, is keeping an estimated 27,000 jobs intact.
Despite the White House’s laser focus on jobs, the administration has its sights on putting these lizards on the Endangered Species List — a move which would severely limit oil production and kill area jobs in order to make the Permian Basin a protected habitat for the lizard.
“The wolf at the door is the lizard; we’re concerned listing it would shut down drilling activity for a minimum of two years and as many as five years while the service determines what habitat is needed for the lizard. That means no drilling, no seismic surveys, no roads built, no electric lines,” said Ben Shepperd, president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association (PBPA).
According to the government, with the species on the verge of extinction, it needs to be protected. Various threats to the lizard include loss of habitat, “fragmentation and degradation as a result of oil and gas development and shinnery oak removal.”
If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) adds the lizard to the Endangered Species list, a decision expected to be made in December, Shepherd noted it “would shut down activity and be devastating not only to Permian Basin economies but to the national economy. We are the one bright spot month after month; in our economic turnaround, the main driver is the oil and gas industry.”
Despite the apparent economic impact, the FWS is solely focused on the well being of the lizard.
“The law says we need to look at the science,” Michelle Shaughnessy, assistant regional director at the Fish and Wildlife Service, told ABC News.
While the lizard appears to be strained, there are many who believe the science is not settled.
The University of Texas Board of Regents commented to the FWS that the decision to list the lizard as endangered is “at best premature and currently unsupported in law and fact. The proposal is based on faulty science, inadequate data, and seriously erroneous assumptions.”
According to Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, since much of the land in question is private, only a small portion has officially been surveyed.
In a letter to the FWS, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs explained that there is not enough information to inflict that much economic damage on the state.
“There is not sufficient scientific and commercial evidence to warrant listing of the species at this time,” Combs wrote. “Additionally, the benefits of current voluntary conservation efforts to enhance the status of the species should be considered.”
Cornyn has been throwing his weight around on Capitol Hill to block the proposed listing in order to save jobs, the area’s economy, and efforts to bring additional water sources to an areas hard hit by the state’s drought — efforts which could be harmed if the lizard becomes a protected entity.
“If oil and gas reserves are put out of bounds because of this little lizard, it would put people out of work and make us more dependent on imports,” Cornyn told TheDC. “It seems to me to be a false sense of priorities.”
Cornyn has proposed legislation to exempt the Sand Dune Lizard from the Endangered Species Act.
“With reptilian ability, the Obama Administration changes its colors on domestic energy from one day to the next based on the political environment,” Cornyn said in June. “Though the President recently claimed he was all for expanding domestic energy production, to see his true colors, meet a little-known species: the Sand Dune Lizard.
Cornyn also has also agreed to release his hold on the president’s nomination of Dan Ashe to be the director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the following conditions: that Ashe look at the scientific uncertainties of the proposal, have more surveys of the lizard in Texas, post all the information the FSW will use to make the decision online, and hold and attend meetings in the impacted areas to fully understand the cost.