Endangered Species : Angered Scientists, Green Groups Confront Administration

Interior secretary Dirk Kempthorne, winner of the 2007 Rubber Dodo Award, is drawing the wrath of scientists and green groups.

Environmental groups plea for public comment on endangered species law changes
By Elana Schor / August 22, 2008

A coalition of scientists and advocates from 105 environmental groups across the US is pressing the Bush administration to allow more public input before it restructures the country’s endangered species law.

Environmentalists got a shock to the system 10 days ago when the Bush administration revealed it would end the 35-year-old requirement that government agencies consult with independent scientists before building roads, dams or mines that could harm threatened species.

The interior secretary who proposed the rule, Dirk Kempthorne, defended the move as necessary to make sure climate change is not used to justify more endangered species protections. Activists cried foul, accusing the Bush administration of launching a “sneak attack” on wildlife during its last days in office.

But what made the Bush administration’s plans even more alarming to environmentalists was the limited outreach that Kempthorne’s department plans to do before changing the endangered species law.

Every US government agency must seek public comment on a rules change before making it. Comments are generally accepted for several months — but the species protections are scheduled to pass after only 30 days of discussion.

“It appears as if the [Bush] administration is doing whatever it can to discourage participation in the democratic process,” National Wildlife Federation executive director John Kostyack said.

“I think we can expect more sneaky assaults like this on our public land and wildlife laws as this administration heads for the exits.”

In addition, public comments will only be accepted by mail or through a government website that automatically shares one’s personal information. The limited comments could prevent green groups from generating mass opposition to the new rule via fax and email.

While they battle to prevent the species law from being changed, environmental groups are also pushing for Kempthorne to open up the process and allow the public greater say over wildlife protections.

“The abbreviated timeline and restrictive commenting options raise serious concerns that the department of the interior is attempting to rewrite a bedrock environmental statute without allowing for adequate public involvement,” 105 environmental groups wrote in a letter to Kempthorne yesterday.

The groups also urged Kempthorne to hold public hearings on the new rule where advocates from both sides of the endangered species debate could exchange views.

Signers of the letter hail from nearly every state in America and a cornucopia of scientific institutions, from the Gulf Restoration Network to the Missouri Botanical Garden to California Trout Incorporated.

Source / Guardian, U.K.

Also see Bush officials sneak-attack nation’s wildlife / salon.com

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2 Responses to Endangered Species : Angered Scientists, Green Groups Confront Administration

  1. TCinLA says:

    Allow me to go into a bit of detail here about what is really going on.

    The Bushies came into office pledged to wipe out the Endangered Species Act. They have been fought to a draw 58 times by the environmental movement in court, losing every contest and being forced to follow the rules and obey the law. Like the Energizer Bunny, they keep coming back.

    In 2005, under the leadership of Richard Pombo – the then-Chairman of the House Environment Committee and a guy well-known here in California for having once said he’d never run across an endangered species he wouldn’t eat – the Administration went after the Act in Congress. Despite having a majority in both houses, and getting a majority vote in the House, they lost in the Senate.

    The next year, the Sierra Club took on Pombo – the pinstriped pimps of the Professional D.C. Denmocrats being unwilling to go to war with someone so powerful – and whipped his ass with a retired College Professor and Sierra Club member, supported by a lot of club members willing to get bunions walking precincts. The 2006 Congress may not be what we all hoped for, but it’s been no friend of the administration on the environment (and would be even less so were there 60 Democrats in the Senate – something more important than getting Obama in the White House).

    So, having failed legislatively, they now plan to go after the Act administratively. Kempthorne (god bless his moron stupidity) was willing to say on August 11 when he introduced the move that “this will keep the environmentalists from blocking projects.”

    What they want to kill is the independent review process, which has been the part of the Act most reponsible for saving endangered species for the past 34 years. This requires any federal agency that has a project that “might endanger a species” to obtain an independent review by a wildlife biiologist at the Fish and Wildlife Service. If is found “reasonably forseeable” that the project will harm the species, the agency has to go back to the drawing board and re-tool it so it doesn’t do that. What they want to do is give the agency whose project it is the power to conduct their own review, and it must be found “reasonably certain” there will be harm before they have to do something, and they are empowered to decide what that will be – without outside review.

    The rules were put into the Federal Register on August 19, with an end of comments of September 15 – the minimum required. They want to promulgate the rules at the end of September/first week of October, right at the height of the campaign.

    What will then happen is the environmental groups will go to court and obtain an injunction preventing implementation, and will then go to war. This will be something like the fight that the environmental movement won last week against the EPA for trying to commit similar mayhem to the Clean Air Act. That will be a precedent for this. That little war took three years to resolve, and while I am sure many here will say “but the new Congress and the Obama Administration won’t let that stand,” there is nothing to prove that. Using the old political rule that “the worst possibility will be the one chosen”, this is a fight the environmental movement has to make, and has to make regardless – we cannot trust the D.C. Dems (all of them in the bag to five corporations or another) to do the right thing here.

    The Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, EarthJustice, etc., all of these will be the plaintiffs, and they’re all going to need your support (I mean your monetary support – talk is cheap).

    This is one that can’t be avoided. If we lose the Endangered Species Act, we might as well just go jump off a cliff and get it over with.

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