Susan Combs, Fierce Critic of Endangered Species Act, Tapped for Agency in Charge of its Implementation

As Texas comptroller, Combs led the charge against endangered species listings, likening them to “incoming Scud missiles.”

As Texas comptroller, Combs led the charge against endangered species listings, likening them to “incoming Scud missiles.”

Former Texas Comptroller Susan Combs and former Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst at a legislative press conference.  Courtesy the Texas Comptroller's Website.

In May, we published a deep-dive into the Texas comptroller’s office and its funding of endangered species research. We found that the comptroller’s office, in 2011, wrested away control of the endangered species program from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and since then has been dogged by a series of controversial decisions that appear to favor special interests over rare Texas species.

Then-comptroller Susan Combs was the chief architect of the program in 2011. She’s now being tapped by the Trump administration as the assistant secretary for policy, management and budget in the Department of Interior. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is an agency within the Department of Interior that makes decisions about which species need additional protection and whether they should be classified as threatened or endangered.

As we pointed out in “Endangered Science,” Combs has been an outspoken critic of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Endangered Species Act. She publicly vowed to protect Texas business interests from what she saw as federal overreach:

Combs was brazen. She likened (endangered species) listings to “incoming Scud missiles” that threatened to blow up the Texas Miracle economy. She put the oil and gas industry in charge of a habitat conservation plan for the dunes sagebrush lizard, which makes its home in the Permian Basin. In 2015, she convinced a military official at Fort Hood to reverse his position that the protections for the golden-cheeked warbler hadn’t interfered with military readiness.

Texas politicians applauded her nomination in a press release on Tuesday. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry called it an “outstanding choice.” Senator John Cornyn said that as “agriculture commissioner and then comptroller of one of the nation’s largest economies, she has a clear record of promoting pro-growth policies and efficiently managing large organizations.  Always a fierce advocate for rural Texans, Susan will be a tremendous asset to the Department.”

You can read our May feature on the Texas comptroller’s endangered species program here.

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Naveena Sadasivam is a staff writer covering the environment, energy and climate change at Grist. She previously covered environmental issues at the Texas Observer, InsideClimate News and ProPublica. At ProPublica, she was part of a team that reported on the water woes of the West, a project that was a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist for national reporting. She has a degree in chemical engineering and a master’s in environmental and science reporting from New York University and was a 2017 Ida B. Wells fellow at Type Investigations. You can contact her at [email protected] and follow her work on Twitter.

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