Snake salesman pleads case against regulation

— -- David Barker, a lean Texan with a gray mustache and a ponytail the length of a garden snake, told Congress on Wednesday that he's one of hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods will be harmed by what Republicans call "job-killing regulation" by the Obama Administration.

His business: breeding exotic pythons and selling them by mail order. The regulation: a proposed rule under the 111-year-old Lacey Act making it illegal to transport nine species of snakes across state lines except for research.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the ban is necessary to protect the Everglades, where non-native snakes have established a foothold and are threatening to upend its fragile ecosystem.

Barker said the proposed rule is flawed. The problem, if there is one, exists only in southern Florida — the harsh winters would kill the snakes anywhere else, he said. It would make it criminal for families with pet snakes to move across state lines. And therefore it could result in "the greatest slaughter of pet animals in American history," because zoos and animal shelters won't take them, Barker said.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was more interested in the economic effect. Though snake breeding businesses are few and small, Barker said 90% of his business would be lost under the rule.

Wednesday's hearing was part of a fall push by House Republicans to attack government regulations — rules made by federal agencies to implement laws passed by Congress. Witnesses also included an airline steward opposed to federal rules on union organizing and a Colorado beef producer opposed to a rule on livestock marketing.

Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said all those rules point to a broken process of rulemaking. On the snake rule, for example, he said the Fish and Wildlife Service ignored concerns by the Small Business Administration that the government didn't take the economic impact into account. And he charged the regulations are based on dubious science.

Democrats on the panel say the GOP attack on regulations fails to acknowledge the benefits of health and safety regulations. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the committee, held up several supporting letters from scientists and environmentalists pointing out the cost of rooting out invasive species and the 13 deaths from pet pythons over 20 years, according to the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species.

Cummings said he had sympathy for Barker's efforts to provide for his family. But repealing the snake transport rule "is not the kind of bold, bipartisan solution Americans are looking for to help the economy," he said.