In the days following an American-Statesman scoop that former Texas official Susan Combs will shape federal endangered species policy in the Trump administration, reaction has sharply differed.
As the U.S. Department of Interior’s acting assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks, Combs, a veteran of Texas government, will oversee policy-making for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is the agency chiefly responsible for carrying out the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Combs once called proposed endangered species proposals “incoming Scud missiles.”
Land developers, mining interests, and the oil and gas industry have long argued that federal exercise of the Endangered Species Act has gone too far in terms of habitat protection; environmental groups, on the other hand, see the law as an important bulwark of environmental protection.
The appointment comes as Combs’ confirmation for another Interior post has long been delayed.
“Of course we would rather have her confirmed and in her intended position as Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget,” Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Interior told the American-Statesman, “but until then, she will serve in an acting capacity at Fish and Wildlife and Parks. Combs is highly qualified and we are more than confident that she will be an effective manager at Fish and Wildlife and Parks while she patiently awaits her senate confirmation.”
But critics said the appointment was a hand-out to industry.
“Putting Combs in charge of the Fish and Wildlife Service is like appointing an arsonist as the town fire marshal,” said Stephanie Kurose, endangered species specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Combs’ history demonstrates her fanatical commitment to stripping away critical protections for our most vulnerable animals, not protecting them. As long as her industry pals make a profit, she won’t think twice about letting a species go extinct.”
Melinda Taylor, director of the University of Texas’ Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business, and former director of the Ecosystem Restoration Program of Environmental Defense, said Combs had “fought every new listing in Texas” while she was in state government, as Texas Agriculture Commissioner and as Texas Comptroller.
“Hard to imagine her doing anything positive for the Fish and Wildlife Service,” she said.