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Zinke hires Endangered Species Act critic for senior post
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has hired an outspoken critic of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for a senior position as the Trump administration undertakes a historic effort to ease industry compliance with the law.
Robert Gordon - who recently penned a report alleging that the ESA has cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars - recently started work at the Interior Department as deputy assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, said Interior spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort. He works under Susan Combs, who is the acting assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, a position akin to a chief financial officer for the 70,000-person agency.
"He has extensive experience working on natural resource issues in Congress and at national think tanks," Vander Voort said in a statement. "Interior is proud to welcome top-tier talent. Rob Gordon brings impressive and diverse experience to the department, and we are excited to have him on our team."
Gordon has fought for decades while in positions both in an out of government to change the ESA. He most recently worked as an adjunct fellow at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute. Days before leaving for the government, he published a major report arguing that official estimates have dramatically underestimated the cost to industry and states for complying with the ESA, and that some single species can cost billions of dollars to protect.
"Clearly, the bureaucratic paperwork, annual agency expenditures, and anticipated costs for recovery, while often poorly estimated and tracked, amount to tens of billions of dollars alone. Economic impacts are clearly far larger," Gordon wrote.
"Whatever the ESA's cost is, it is much larger than generally acknowledged, and likely measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars," he concluded. "Unfortunately, the ESA's poor record of recovering species does not indicate that we are getting what we pay for."
Gordon's hiring comes as Interior, in an effort led by Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, is working to dramatically change how the ESA enforced. The proposal, rolled out in July, would make it easier to remove a species's protection, allow for lesser protections for species that are designated as "threatened" and make it more difficult to protect habitats.
Gordon praised the proposal in a July statement through CEI.
"For those who wish to see effective conservation rather than an excuse to thwart economic growth, infrastructure improvements, and energy development, it is a good sign that the Trump administration recognizes the problems," he said at the time.
Conservation groups slammed the proposal as an attempt to hobble species protection efforts. Meanwhile, Republicans in both the House and Senate are working on more substantial legislative changes to the ESA with similar goals.
Gordon's hiring follows Zinke's decision earlier this year to temporarily designate Combs, another outspoken ESA critic, as acting assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, which more directly oversees ESA implementation and enforcement. That move was harshly criticized by green groups as an assault on the law.
Combs was nominated last year to be assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, but her nomination has stalled in the Senate.
Gordon has previously worked at the Heritage Foundation, as a senior aide to House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and co-founded the National Wilderness Institute.