WASHINGTON-Rushing to put in place changes it failed to secure in the past eight years, the Bush administration has finalized new Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations today, cutting huge holes in the safety net that protects animals and plants in danger of becoming extinct.
First proposed by the Department of the Interior a little over three months ago, the new regulations will eliminate the requirement that agencies seek advice from expert biologists with federal wildlife agencies in decisions about whether dams, towers, highways and other projects will likely harm imperiled species.
"This administration's disdain for wildlife and the environment has never been more clear than it is today," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife and former director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. "For 35 years, the Endangered Species Act has helped save and recover imperiled wildlife on the brink of extinction. Now, with this administration facing its last days, they are doing everything they can to cement their anti-environmental legacy before the Obama administration takes office."
The Bush administration's last minute rulemaking has drawn heavy criticism from the public, lawmakers, conservation groups and newspaper editorialists around the country. More than 250,000 comments opposing the changes were submitted to the Interior Department in the 60 days it allowed for the public to respond to the changes.
But the massive public outcry seems to have fallen on deaf ears. In its push to finalize the rules before President-elect Barack Obama takes office, the department had only 15 people spend only 32 hours reading the comments, averaging mere seconds in reviewing each of the more than 250,000 comments. Department officials then ignored the major concerns raised by the comments, making only cosmetic changes to the original proposals.
Both President-elect Obama and key Democratic leaders have signaled that they will oppose the ESA changes. In addition, Defenders intends to take immediate legal action to stop these regulations.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has argued that the new regulations are needed to keep the ESA from being used to limit emissions from coal power plants and other polluting sources that contribute to global warming. This continues the Bush administration's failed approach of ignoring the problem.
"Global warming presents the greatest threat this generation has seen to ourselves, our wildlife and our environment, and yet the Bush administration has dragged its feet on addressing the impacts of a warming planet for its entire time in office," Clark said. "While the ESA by itself certainly can't provide a comprehensive solution to global warming, its protections will be essential in helping at-risk species survive a changing climate. If allowed to stand, these regulations will deprive the Obama administration of a powerful tool to protect wildlife and ecosystems from the effects of global warming."
Many of the ESA regulation changes finalized today were tried before in a failed legislative effort by former Representative Richard Pombo (R-CA), whose anti-environmental record and repeated attacks on the ESA contributed to his defeat in the 2006 elections.
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are the keepers of the flame for our threatened and endangered wildlife. They are equipped to make decisions based on looking at the whole picture for a species, on what's happening to their habitat, their health and other significant impacts," Clark said. "It seems that the Bush administration has prioritized the interests of its industry allies over its responsibility to the public for protecting our nation's imperiled wildlife. We will work in the courts, with Congress, and with the Obama administration to overturn these damaging regulations, so that we can begin to address the environmental neglect and damage that has been done over the last eight years."