Cornyn amendment would halt Permian Basin lizard listing

The Permian Basin oil industry received a boost Tuesday in its fight to keep the sand dune lizard off the endangered species list.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, filed an amendment to the Economic Development  Administration reauthorization bill that would exempt the lizard from the Endangered Species Act. Industry leaders are concerned that such a listing could greatly hamper or close down much oil activity in the eight Permian Basin counties that are considered the lizard’s habitat.

“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 a statement. “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.

“If the Obama Administration has its way, this scaly political pawn will land on the Endangered Species List, without sufficient supporting research to back up the move, and effectively bring new and existing oil and gas production in parts of Texas and New Mexico to a screeching halt,” he added.

Ben Shepperd, Permian Basin Petroleum Association president, commended Cornyn’s efforts.

“Not surprisingly, we’re in support of that (legislation),” said Shepperd. “There is absolutely no justifiable reason to list the sand dune lizard as an endangered species.”

Although the amendment is attached to the EDA reauthorization bill, it would actually make a change to Section 4 of the Endangered Species act of 1973. The amendment reads, “This Act shall not apply to the sand dune lizard.”

A Cornyn aide said the wording was attached to the EDA reauthorization bill because keeping the sand dune lizard off the endangered species list is considered economically sound.

“It serves as an opportunity to highlight the danger the listing could do to a major economic engine for Texas — the Permian Basin,” the aide said, adding it also addresses the issue of domestic energy production.

There is precedent for singling out a species for special treatment, Cornyn’s aide said. On April 14, Congress passed
legislation that included a provision returning authority for managing the gray wolf population to individual states that are following Fish and Wildlife Service management plans. Montana and Idaho were among the states so empowered.

Also, a bill recently filed by Representative Frank Guinta, R-NH, would, if passed, prevent bluefin tuna from being treated as an endangered species. According to Guinta’s web site, that bill’s aim is to protect fishermen who depend on this fish for their livelihoods.

The EDA bill is being considered this week on the Senate floor. All amendments, including Cornyn’s, are subject individually to up-or-down votes. Should the amendment and the entire bill stand, it would have to pass the Senate and the House to become law.

Cornyn’s aide would not speculate as to the bill’s chances of passage.

“We don’t know what the final bill will look like,” the aide said.

Shepperd, while also declining to predict an outcome, noted that such an amendment’s chances may be better today than they were two years ago, when an overwhelming Democratic majority was swept into both houses of Congress. Whatever the bill’s fate, the amendment will have an impact.

“It will bring much needed attention to the issue,” Shepperd stated.

Paul Wiseman can be reached at