Don’t cripple the law that protects endangered species
The Bush administration wants to allow federal agencies to proceed with projects that might endanger plants and animals without permission from the Fish and Wildlife Service.
UNABLE to persuade Congress to disarm the Endangered Species Act, President Bush is proposing to weaken it by regulation. Any doubt that he can legally do so should spur Congress to toughen the law to prevent such impairment.
The proposal to change the rules comes three months after Interior Secretary Kirk Kempthorne announced his decision to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the act - threatened by global warming. The state of Alaska sued Kempthorne last week, contending that the listing could cripple oil and gas development.
The law protecting threatened and endangered species has not been significantly altered in more than 20 years, and the administration has asked for dramatic changes that would seriously weaken it. The proposed rule would no longer require completion of independent reviews by the Fish and Wildlife Service of plans that could pose risks to endangered animals and plants.
The present law requires Fish and Wildlife to inform agencies within 30 days of receiving a project proposal if it needs more information. Developers have complained that the question-and-answer process can go on for many months. Under the proposed rule, agencies could terminate consultation with Fish and Wildlife after 60 days if it has not yet acted on the proposal.
"It is important to use our time and resources to protect the most vulnerable species," Kempthorne said in announced the rule proposal. "It is not possible to draw a link between greenhouse-gas emissions and distant observations of impacts on species." Federal review of the effect of those emissions on shrinking Arctic ice should not be reviewed, he added, "because it is not possible to link the emissions to impacts on specific listed species such as polar bears."
That is ridiculous. The effect of emissions on the warming of the Earth's atmosphere is widely accepted outside the White House. Fish and Wildlife experts are well-schooled to determine the effects of global warming on wildlife. The rules would put those decisions in the hands of agencies with no expertise on - or interest in - those issues.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., issued a statement saying the proposed rule change is "another in a continuing stream of proposals to repeal our landmark environmental laws through the back door." She added, "I believe it is illegal, and if this proposed regulation had been in place, it would have undermined our ability to protect the bald eagle, the grizzly bear and the gray whale."
Action is needed in the courts and Congress to prevent the proposed rule change from taking effect.
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