Bush weakens Endangered Species Act

In the latest chapter of “How Bush is determined to screw over the environment before he leaves office,” the administration is finalizing changes that would severely weaken the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Major modifications to the ESA were first announced in August, and could be published in the Federal Register as early as today. The biggest change would eliminate the need for independent scientific reviews of federal projects. Currently all federal projects—like highway, dam, or mine construction—must be evaluated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to make sure the project wouldn’t adversely affect endangered or threatened plants and animals. Under the new ESA, individual agencies could decide for themselves whether their own projects would harm wildlife, a move that has environmentalists understandably angered. Government scientists perform tens of thousands of reviews each year—getting rid of them could cause irreparable damage to imperiled wildlife.

From today’s Washington Post:

The interagency consultations matter, [John Kostyak, director of wildlife conservation and global warming at the National Wildlife Federation] argued, because they sometimes avert federal projects that might have a devastating effect on vulnerable species, as in the case of a limestone mine that was blocked in 2004 because it would have harmed the Florida panther’s habitat.


“The agencies that are pushing these projects through are inherently biased, because they want to get these projects through at a minimal cost and they don’t like delays associated with endangered species,” he said.

A recent addition to the new regulations explicitly states that climate change should not be included in the factors that would warrant an interagency consultation—a slap in the face for species like polar bear and salmon, which rely on arctic sea ice and snowpack. Based on Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne’s comments on revising the ESA (CNN.com reported that Kempthorne said “changes were needed to ensure that the Endangered Species Act would not be used as a ‘back door’ to regulate the gasses blamed for global warming”), it’s not totally surprising that the climate change stipulation was suddenly added. Damn those environmentalists and their sneaky tricks to save polar bears and push through climate change legislation!

Unlike other 11th other regulations, some of which the new administration could choose to enact or ignore, the ESA revisions would go into effect 30 days after being published in the Federal Register (in other words, most likely before Bush leaves office). This would make it more difficult for a new administration to simply reverse the ruling through executive order. Polar bears better pray that Obama’s transition team has been training to jump through some massive legislative hoops.


TrackBack URL for this entry:


Luckily, these new rules weren't published on Friday, which means that if they still come before Bush leaves office, Obama could easily overturn them when his term begins. We'll see how it plays out.

Post a comment

Issue 25

Sign up for Plenty's Weekly Newsletter