Comptroller Susan Combs and other officials on Monday testified in favor of a plan that aims to balance protecting a rare lizard species and maintaining oil and gas production in its habitat, in case the species is placed on the endangered species list.
If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classifies the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard as endangered, the Texas Conservation Plan would allow oil and gas operations to continue under certain conditions that protect the lizards. The Texas Association of Business, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department were among those who devised the plan, which was agreed to by the comptroller and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This plan accomplishes the one essential thing that is critical to Texas — the assurance that oil and gas exploration and production can continue regardless of the outcome of a listing decision for the lizard,” said Bill Hammond, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business.
Officials testified at a Senate Committee on Natural Resources hearing on the “negative implications” that classifying the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard as endangered would have on the state's oil and gas industry. Oil and gas companies argue that the lizard’s inclusion on the endangered species list would endanger the production of millions of barrels of oil and gas in parts of east New Mexico and oil-rich West Texas, where the animal lives.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed adding the lizard to the endangered species list, and a ruling is expected in June. The plan will reduce the “regulatory uncertainty that Texas businesses could face” if the federal agency decides to add the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard to the endangered species list, according to the plan.
Participants in the plan, which is voluntary, would incur no further restrictions on their property if the lizards are listed as endangered as long as they implement conservation measures, such as removing “invasive plants” like mesquite and using pipelines, not trucks, where feasible.
Even while endorsing the plan, Combs made it clear she opposed the inclusion of the lizard species on the endangered species list.
“I do not and have not ever supported the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to list the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard as threatened or endangered due to the lack of data,” Combs said at the hearing.
Wildlife protection groups support adding the lizard to the endangered species list.
“This is a species that is on the brink of extinction,” said Mark Salvo, Wildlife Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “We cannot risk using exclusively voluntary planning efforts to conserve and recover this species. We must do more to protect the lizard habitat and recover the species populations.”