The Texas comptroller's office is seeking federal approval to reform a troubled state program designed to protect a rare lizard species in the petroleum-rich Permian Basin.
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar has requested the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approve the state agency's new version of the Texas Conservation Plan, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The move comes amid threats by the federal agency to designate the dunes sagebrush lizard as endangered, which would enact strict land-use regulations.
Some environmentalists have critiqued the old Texas Conservation Plan as favoring oil and gas companies over species protection.
Hegar's office was quick to rewrite the plan after environmental groups asked the Fish and Wildlife Service in June to consider the lizard species endangered due to the area's newly booming sand-mining industry.
The new proposal aims to eliminate some of the old plan's failures, such as its inability to address the sudden arrival of sand-mining companies. The original plan only applies to oil and gas companies, but sand miners are disrupting thousands of acres of lizard habitat in the Permian Basin.
The comptroller's office also identified other ways the original plan failed to protect the species.
"Investigation revealed problems that were systemic and not amenable to piecemeal fixes," the comptroller's office wrote in a letter this month to U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials.
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The rewritten proposal defines ways companies can avoid lizard habitat and incentivizes industrial activities to focus on non-habitat areas. The new plan also eliminates scientifically unsupported conservation options.
"It's fair to say we're very pleased that it strikes balance of protecting species while also allowing growth and development in the Permian Basin," said Robert Gulley, who oversees endangered species conservation for the comptroller's office.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will gather comments from companies and affected parties in the coming months.
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com