I've been part of the environmental movement for a long time, but I learned about something ominous that happened this week -- something that made the hair on my arms stand on end.
The Associated Press broke the story of an egregious and sweeping assault by the Bush administration on regulations that helped bring the bald eagle and other creatures back from the brink of extinction. The worst part is that I believe it's probably a foreshadowing of the havoc that will be wreaked in the final months of this administration.
The AP obtained a draft of a proposed rule by Interior Department Secretary Dirk Kempthorne that would allow federal agencies -- not scientists -- to determine when a particular project would harm endangered animals and plants.The new rules effectively take decision-making on endangered species listings out of the hands of scientists and wildlife professionals at agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and instead put those decisions in the hands of the agencies working on the projects -- think roads, dams, logging operations -- that might be adversely affected by a listing. The AP article states that the new regulations, which don't require the approval of Congress, would reduce the mandatory, independent reviews government scientists have been performing for 35 years. It's being called the biggest overhaul of the Endangered Species Act since 1986.
It's obvious that the Interior Department is now trying to use administrative tricks do what Congress wouldn't allow back when Richard Pombo tried it -- a complete deconstruction of the Endangered Species Act.
Here's the clincher, according to the AP article:
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said late Monday the changes were needed to ensure that the Endangered Species Act would not be used as a "back door" to regulate the gases blamed for global warming. In May, the polar bear became the first species declared as threatened because of climate change. Warming temperatures are expected to melt the sea ice the bear depends on for survival.The draft rules would bar federal agencies from assessing the emissions from projects that contribute to global warming and its effect on species and habitats.
I guess if you don't want to play by the rules, you've got a lot of incentive to change them. This plan reeks of the disdain for science and political trumping of expertise that has characterized previous efforts to dismantle fundamental environmental laws.
It sends a clear signal that this administration will spend the rest of its days trying to raze what remains of the rules and regulations that have kept wildlife like the bald eagle from going extinct. We'll be among the environmental groups and others keeping a close eye on these developments. If you'd like us to keep you up to speed, subscribe to our Currents e-newsletter.
Greg Haegle is conservation director of the Sierra Club and a regular guest contributor to TreeHugger.