Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Let the fire sale begin

For those of us committed to conservation, the Bush administration can't end soon enough -- but to the immeasurable damage they've already caused to the environment, the worst may be yet to come.

Many of us have been expecting that the final months of the administration will see a fire-sale approach to eviscerating environmental protections, particularly the two months between the general election in November and the inauguration, when the political damage to the GOP will be minimal.

But that doesn't mean they can't get a start on that pesky fall housecleaning, as this story from the AP makes clear.

An internal draft of proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act, obtained by the AP, shows that the Department of the Interior wants to scuttle the process under which federal projects - mines, highways, dams - that could harm endangered species and their habitat are subjected to an independent scientific review.

Instead, federal agencies could decide for themselves whether a project would be harmful, whether or not that agency has such expertise, or even has wildlife biologists on staff. Furthermore, it would significantly restrict what constitutes "harm" to threatened species, and would set a short, 60-day limit for comment by wildlife experts - on the off chance they're actually consulted.

The current system requires consultation with either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Although projects are rarely disallowed because of reviews, the process often results in changes that help protect endangered species habitat.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said the move, which would take effect after a 30-day comment period, and without Congressional review, will prevent the use of the ESA as a "back door" attempt to regulate greenhouse gases.

In fact, of course, it's a back-door means of achieving what many conservatives have long sought but failed to get legislatively -- gutting the Endangered Species Act.

And unfortunately, we'll be seeing a lot more of these administrative end-runs around environmental protections in the months to come.


Unknown said...

I'm horrified by this! How could these changes be made without congressional review and approval? If that is true, why even bother with the 30-day comment period? Is there anything we can do to stop this?

Scott Weidensaul said...

Some congressional Democrats contend the action would be illegal, and I expect there would be legal challenges, but this is actually a long-standing (and potent) tool of this administration - if you fail to change the law itself, then change the way in which you interpret it.

The best response is to make sure your senator and congressman knows your opposition to the idea. Write a letter to your local paper; raise a stink. In the past year, similarly disastrous proposals in other areas of natural resource protection, such as national parks management, leaked out and were substantially curtailed by public outrage.

This one, I suspect, is going to take some real opposition to stop, though, since it accomplishes something on the anti-conservation wish list for a long time.

Julie Zickefoose said...

I especially loved the administration quote that federal agencies had done a "pretty good job" of self-regulating so far.
This made my blood boil, and you're right, Mr. Sneaky Pants is going to be doing his best to gut what he can and rip the stuffing out of the Endangered Species Act before we can get someone with an environmental conscience back in the White House. And that's not all he's gutting. Blaaa. Icky man, begone.

Nik Perring said...

I've only just stumbled upon your blog after reading (and loving) The Ghost With Trembling Wings (reviewed here: http://nikperring.blogspot.com/2008/10/and-now-for-something-completely.html)

What's happening with this? Is there any further news? Sincerely hope it hasn't and doesn't go ahead.

Keep up the splendid work.