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Group Charges Pearce with Perpetrating Hoax over Lizard Listing

Drilling would be Unaffected by Species' Conservation in More than 99 Percent of Permian Basin

Representative Steve Pearce (R-NM-2nd) and industry spokesmen are perpetuating a hoax on the public by asserting that listing the dunes sagebrush lizard under the Endangered Species Act will “shut down” oil and gas development in the Permian Basin and “devastate” economies in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. In fact, the lizard occupies a tiny patch of habitat in the basin and oil and gas drilling will be unaffected by conservation actions in more than 99 percent of the region if the lizard is listed.

“Representative Pearce and others have been whipping up a frenzy over the proposed listing, but their wild statements don’t comport with reality,” said Mark Salvo of WildEarth Guardians. “Let’s pause and look at the facts: the lizard lives in less than one percent of the Permian Basin. Listing will have little, if any, effect on oil and gas development.”

The dunes sagebrush lizard, also known as the sand dune lizard, occurs in sand dunes in shinnery oak grasslands in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. The species is highly imperiled and extremely sensitive to disturbance, including oil and gas development. Scientists warned as early as 1997 that the lizard faced extinction without greater protections. After waiting a decade, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finally proposed to list the dunes sagebrush lizard under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that dunes sagebrush lizard populations are scattered across approximately 655 square miles. The Permian Basin is more than 75,000 square miles in size. The species habitat is 0.87 percent of the Basin. Even this tiny range is riddled with oil and gas wells. At least 4,084 oil and gas wells have already been drilled in lizard habitat in New Mexico.

Representative Pearce’s political puffery is predictable. He owes his congressional seat to the oil and gas industry, which was the top contributor to Pearce’s campaign in 2009-2010, shoveling $309,420 into his coffers according to Persons associated with Yates Petroleum and Marbob Energy were the top individual donors to Pearce in his bid to beat incumbent Harry Teague last year. Now Mr. Pearce is providing a return on their investment.

Unfortunately, many in the news media (e.g., Forbes), newspaper editorial boards (e.g., Las Cruces Sun-News, Midland Reporter-Telegram), and hundreds of people that rallied in opposition to lizard listing last week have accepted hyperbolic statements by Representative Pearce and industry spokespeople as fact. Even T. Boone Pickens protested that “you can't let them shut you down over a lizard.” Contrary to such hyperbole, published research found only a fraction of 1 percent of federally permitted activities are disallowed due to species listings under the Endangered Species Act.

“Industry doesn’t like to compromise,” said Salvo, “even to conserve less than 1 percent of the vast Permian Basin for an imperiled species.”

Rep. Pearce and three colleagues, Representatives Michael Conaway (R-NM-11th), Randy Neugebauer (R-TX-19th), and Francisco Canseco (R-TX-23rd), have taken their opposition to lizard listing one step further by urging congressional action to prevent the Fish and Wildlife Service from protecting the species under the ESA. Their proposition comes just three weeks after Congress passed and President Obama signed legislation removing ESA protection for most gray wolves in the Northern Rockies. The wolf delisting was an unprecedented action in the nearly 40 years of the Endangered Species Act. Their intentions for the lizard continue a disturbing trend of politicians attempting to vet species listings on behalf of special interests.


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