Friday, November 04, 2005

Legal Eagles

American ultraconservatism has an attractive new poster child:

A Minnesota resident sued the federal government Tuesday concerning the bald eagles' continued listing as an endangered species, arguing that a bird's nest on his property made it impossible to build on the land.

Edmund Contoski, who owns lakefront property in Morrison County, Minn., teamed up with the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation of Sacramento, Calif., to file the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.
Without addressing the legal merits of this case, I have to say that it suggests a poor grasp of symbolic politics, which is a discipline at which the Right is supposed to excel.

The Pacific Legal Foundation is well known to students of rabid anti-environmentalism (to the best of my knowledge, it was the first anti-environmental law firm).

Contoski has an interesting history too. Though portrayed in the article above as an ordinary citizen, Contoski is a highly visible anti-environmental activist in his own right. Consider, for instance, his book Makers and Takers:
Makers and Takers shows how the free market works--and why government intervention doesn't. It examines various forms of economic intervention (taxation, regulation, monetary policy) and their effects on consumer products and services, the health and lives of Americans, and the nation's economic well-being.

The book also explores a broad range of environmental issues. Scientific subjects such as pollution, acid rain, and global warming are explained in clear, nontechnical language--including some surprising facts that discredit current government policies.
In addition, Contoski claims to have been "director of planning for an internationally renowned environmental consulting firm." Apparently, his innate modesty prevents him from telling us which one.

The argument the PLF makes on Contoski's behalf is a fascinating one:
The bald eagle's recovery is widely credited to the banning of DDT in 1972. By 1995, the bald eagle's numbers had increased so significantly that the government downlisted the species from "endangered" to "threatened."
This is interesting mainly because when the PLF was formed in 1973, one of its goals was to support the continued, virtually unregulated use of DDT. To acknowledge all these decades later, albeit passively and ambivalently, that this ban is generally considered to have improved the situation of the bald eagle, is more than ordinarily cynical.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that the PLF has also consistently litigated against the Endangered Species Act itself. Thus, it seems to me that they're essentially using the success of two policies they oppose as an argument against continued protection for the bald eagle. Between this somewhat self-defeating argument, and the symbolic status of the bald eagle, it's hard to see how this lawsuit could result in anything more rewarding than a Pyrrhic victory.

I offer this charming story as a preamble to Stephanie Hendricks' terrific article on the confluence of the "Wise Use" movement with Dominion Theology. (The article is excerpted from her new book Divine Destruction, which I recommend highly.)

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