Monday, January 4, 2010

Richard Pombo Announces Candidacy for Congress

Richard Pombo is announcing his candidacy for George Radanovich's Congressional seat. This got my attention. I have never met Pombo and moved to the area after he lost reelection to Congress. However, we are loosely connected in some ways.

Pombo, in part, inspired my 1990s dissertation research on the impacts of the Endangered Species Act in North Carolina. That study was the first objective, academic study to confirm the perverse private landonwer incentives often cited by Pombo and other property rights activists against the ESA. Thus, for a period of time early in this decade, our names often appeared together in anti-ESA articles (I found this one on Google, but there were more including the Wall Street Journal). In addition, Pombo helped secure the initial funding to support the start up of the Business Forecasting Center at Pacific in 2003-05 (many years before I came to Pacific and took over as Director, I didn't learn of the coincidence until after I accepted the job).

I suspect he and others are less pleased with some of my more recent ESA studies on the employment effects of the Delta Smelt restrictions. However, it is conducted in the exact same spirit as the woodpecker studies that property rights activists loved. It is merely testing to see if anecdotes and political rhetoric around the ESA stands up to an unbiased analysis of the data.

I share many of Pombo's property rights concerns regarding the ESA. Although Pombo's ESA reform bill didn't pass (and it had good and bad provisions), I give him credit for forcing environmentalists to face up to the problems with the ESA on private lands. I think the ESA works better today, and is implemented much more flexibly as a result. However, the water issues surrounding the endangered Delta Smelt are not property rights issues (and don't get me started on groundwater). There is a difference between Kangaroo Rat and Kit Fox habitat, and Delta Smelt and Salmon. There is a difference between defending private property rights and defending the Central Valley Project. I suspect he understands that, and I am genuinely interested in hearing him discuss the issue in more detail as the campaign evolves.

I know nothing about Pombo's record or views outside of the ESA issue (it was a national issue and I lived across the country when he was in Congress), and have no idea if he is an effective legislator for the Valley. All I hope is that Pombo and other Congressional candidates in the Valley substantively address the foreclosure issue and other serious Valley economic problems, and do not allow water and the concerns of large landowners to completely dominate the race.

Update 1/5: This article from the Record is not encouraging. He says it is all the same issues as when he was in Congress, and it is all about water and agriculture. That is disapointing, because in fact the biggest problem in the Central Valley is foreclosures, a problem that wasn't even on the radar screen when he left Congress in 2006.

Some clarification on my "some good, some bad" comment on Pombo's ESA reform bill for those familiar with ESA details. Economically, the good was landowner incentives and no surprises, the bad was the takings provisions (although I support property rights, my concerns about regulatory takings are economically technical and stem from it creating an entirely new set of perverse ESA incentives as well as problems with how appraisers typically overestimate the lost property value - leading to potential windfall payments to landowners from taxpayers). There were other provisions on science, listing, critical habitat and other components to the law that are fuzzy in my mind and I am not the best person to evaluate anyway. My impression was always that the bill never had a chance and I didn't study it in great detail.

I also had no idea how young he is. I assumed he was an old veteran who retired after he lost election. He must have been in his early 30s when he was first elected.

Update 1/6: Mike Fitzgerald from the Stockton Record offers, as usual, an interesting commentary.

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