The Mean Green Endangered Species Machine

LOS ANGELES — It’s another front on the environmental war, waged between the Bush administration’s Department of the Interior and the Greens who say it’s destroying nature instead of protecting it.

And in the fight over the endangered species list, environmentalists are vowing to save the planet, animal by animal, plant by plant.

"Our administration is only thinking of today," said actress and activist Betty White.

White and other high-profile figures like Jane Goodall are taking the administration to task for declaring a moratorium on new additions to the endangered species list and on so-called "citizen lawsuits." The moratorium was first proposed under the Clinton administration.

"The (Endangered Species Act) has an excellent goal I think most Americans share – to make sure species don’t become extinct," Interior Secretary Gale Norton said.

But Norton, a controversial pick for the department who many said had a history of anti-environmentalism, says that Green groups are actually making the job of protecting species harder because she’s being smothered in an avalanche of citizen lawsuits from two environmental groups.

One of them, the Center for Biodiversity, said that the cases are justified. From 1994 to 1999, the Center filed a lawsuit every 32 days, according to court records.

"In the last decade 92 percent of all species listed as endangered in the state of California (were listed) because citizens sued the government," the Center’s Kieran Suckling said.

The Center’s critics say the lawsuits aim to stop economic growth.

We have gone too far, too extreme on environmental things, too extreme on the Endangered Species Act," Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said.

Hansen, and others like him, point out that the list of endangered species has grown from 109 to more than 1,200. They scoffingly point out that 60 percent of them are plants and bring up the case of Sierra Club lawyers who demanded $5 million from the government for their work to protect a blind salamander in Texas. Each species, they add, could cost $50 million or more in recovery efforts.

But the environmentalists say that Hansen and Norton are being short-sighted, and that future generations will thank people like the Center for Biodiversity for their efforts to save what they can today.

"I say we try to put the Bush administration on the endangered species list," said Michael Weiss, from the show The Pretender.