Because endangered snail darters, mussels and snails are stuck in his craw, Rep. Robin Beard (R-Tenn.) has introuduced 682 amendments to an appropriations bill in the House. That's one amendment for each of the species, from pink fairy armadillo to bowhead whale, on a federal list of endangered animals.
Beard's amendments are aimed at cutting money for enforcement of Endangered Species Act out of the Interior Department appropriations bill, which is due on the floor tomorrow. Each amendment would bar use of Interior money for the particular creature it names.
If the Tennessee Republican has his way, his protest could consume 9 1/2 days of the House's time, at the rate of five minutes' debate and a 15-minute roll call on each of the 682 amendments.
Such a protest is unusual, but it is Beard's way of telling the House he is unhappy with the legislative signal-calling.
Not coincidentally, the Endangered Species Act is creating big problems for the dam-builders of the Tennessee Valley Authority in Beard's state.
Last week the Supreme Court held that TVA could not finish its nearly completed Tellico Dam because the project threatens the snail darter, which is protected by the act.
Closer to home, in Beard's district, TVA is building the Columbia Dam on the Duck River, and endangered mussels and snails threaten to hold up that project as well.
Beard is on e of a number of House members who think that overzealous protection of endangered creatures is standing in the way of progress.
And he chanrged yesterday that the zealousness has reached new levels, with what he termed a "railroading" through the House o fan extension of the Endangered Species Act.
In a blast almost as unusual as his mass-amendment tactic, Beard attacked Rep. John Murphy (D.N.Y.) personally for "engineering & mockery of the democratic process" and for "affronting" members of the House.
The Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, which Murphy chairs, held a hearing in February on the three-year extension. A subcommittee marked up the bill on March 14; the full committee approved it March 16.
Murphy was tied up in meetings yesterday afternoon and could not be reached for a response. But a committee spokesman said Beard had his facts and his dates twisted.
Beard argued that the action all had taken place on the same day, but his office backed away from the charge last night, acknowledging that there had been confusion.
The Tennessean stuck to his protest that the Feb. 15 hearing had not been properly advertised in advance, but a Murphy aide said the notice went out a week ahead of the hearing, as required by the rules.
Merchant Marine is now holding a series of "oversight" hearings to take testimony on the most controversial portion of the act, which requires that endangered species be protected form harm.
A committee aide said the hearings could result in an amendment to the three-year reauthorization of the act, which was ordered reported to the House on March 31 but has not been called up for debate.
Unless it is extended by Congress, the Endangered Species Act will expire Sept. 30. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has approved an extension that includes a new wrinkle for settling fights in cases such as the Tellico or Columbia dams.
The Senate version would create a Cabinet-level review commission to settle potential conflicts between enforcement of the act and construction of public projects involving federal funds.
Beard, with about 50 co-sponsors, has pending in the House an amendnent that would grandfather the act by allowing projects to continue if an endangered species is found after a project begins.
A spokesman said Beard's marathon amendments are intended only to draw attention to act and obtain their day in court, or in the hearing assurances that opponents will get room.
In at least one corner outside Congress, Beard's tactics aren't making him at all popular.
"That committee has bent over backwards to be fair," said Martha Pope of the National Wildlife Federation. "Beard is being very irresponsible and indiscriminate."