Yesterday the House voted to strip down the Endangered Species Act, one of the landmark achievements of the 1970s environmental movement:

By a vote of 229-193, lawmakers passed legislation that could greatly expand private-property rights under the environmental law that is credited with helping keep the bald eagle from extinction, but that has led to battles over species such as the spotted owl, the snail darter and the red-legged frog.

This focus on a handful of affected species, of course, misses the point. The law had a much larger and innovative focus, an ecological perspective that included provisions to limit development in entire stretches of "critical habitat." The House vote eliminated these features of the ESA.

There's another, big-picture impact here as well. The ESA was one of the only laws on the books that put a bigger social interest -- in this case, the health of our environment -- above the interests of private property and profit. Most of our laws try to limit damage after it's already underway; by contrast, the ESA forced developers, before they broke ground on new projects, to prove their schemes wouldn't pose a threat to animals threatened with extinction.

So the House gutted one of the few laws that put our common, public interests first, and corporations are now in the driver's seat. There's still hope -- ostensibly enviro-friendly Sen. Chafee (R-RI) apparently has reservations -- but overall, prospects aren't good.

Welcome to "conservation" in the "conservative" revolution.