Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Endangered Species Act Under Attack Yet Again

The lunacy never stops. Once again the Bush administration is trying to undermine the protections at the heart of the Endangered Species Act. This time, business interests lawyers at the Commerce and Interior Departments are trying to speed up environmental review for federal projects by allowing all agencies to make their own determinations, instead of referring them to wildlife officials for approval.

The new rules, which will be subject to a 30-day per comment period, would use administrative powers to make broad changes in the law that Congress has resisted for years. Under current law, agencies must subject any plans that potentially affect endangered animals and plants to an independent review by the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Under the proposed new rules, dam and highway construction and other federal projects could proceed without delay if the agency in charge decides they would not harm vulnerable species.
Note: Other reports indicate that there will be a 60-day comment period rather than a 30-day comment period. Either would make the rules go into effect before election day, leaving time for projects to be rammed through without proper review.

As the article points out, most federal agencies do not employ biologists qualified to make those determinations. Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne says that this rule will bring "clarity and certainty" to the planning process. Indeed, it is clear that, freed from independent review, officials in other agencies are certain to approve projects, regardless of the environmental consequences. For example, look at what has happened with the border wall. Given the power to do so, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff waived any environmental regulations that might impede construction of the border wall, despite evidence of significant harm. The same will happen with other projects that are dear to powerful officials.

The new rules would also prevent greenhouse gas emissions from being regulated under the Endangered Species Act, specifically to avoid helping polar bears.
At the time of that decision, Kempthorne said he would seek changes to the Endangered Species Act on the grounds that it was inflexible, adding that it had not been significantly modified since 1986. In a statement yesterday, the Interior Department declared that even if a federal action such as the permitting of a power plant would lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions, the decision would not trigger a federal review "because it is not possible to link the emissions to impacts on specific listed species such as polar bears."

Kempthorne said the new regulations included that language "so we don't inadvertently have the Endangered Species Act seen as a back door to climate-change policy that was never, ever intended."
Real estate developers and coal companies cheered.

NWF is running a petition drive to make Secretary Dick Kempthorne rethink the proposed regulatory changes. Sign on to protect endangered species.