The latest fight between the feds and Texas is over a brown, beady-eyed, two-and-a-half-inch lizard.
West Texas lawmakers are worried that a federal proposal to protect the dunes sagebrush lizard could halt the production of millions of barrels of oil and gas. The Texas House this morning approved a resolution calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rescind its proposal to bring the lizard under the Endangered Species Act.
"It is a multibillion-dollar issue for the economy of this state," said Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, who wrote the resolution.
The tiny lizard has been causing consternation among oilmen and farmers and ranchers since December, when the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed adding it to the endangered species list. The lizard's native habitat is in eastern New Mexico and West Texas, and the federal agency says that habitat is threatened by ongoing oil and gas drilling and the removal of shinnery oaks for cattle grazing. The agency has considered the rare lizard species as a candidate for the endangered species list since 2001.
If the lizard was added to the list, it would affect seven West Texas counties: Andrews, Cochran, Crane, Gaines, Ward, Winkler and Yoakum. About 75,000 acres in those counties are managed by the University of Texas and help pay for universities in the system. UT officials say adding the lizard to the endangered species list could halt work on about 1,000 oil and gas wells. And that, they say, would take about 7 million barrels of oil per year out of production. "Listing the dunes sagebrush lizard as an endangered species would inflict severe economic damage, harm property owners, and undermine higher education in the Lone Star State," Chisum's resolution states.
"This is just one attempt for us to get the attention … of the people in Congress," Chisum said.