Last-minute changes put flora, fauna at risk


POSTED: Friday, December 12, 2008





        The Bush administration puts its final touches on weakening the Endangered Species Act.

  THE Bush administration has scrapped its attempts to relax two air pollution regulations, one of which had been a primary objective of Vice President Cheney's secretive energy task force since 2001.

The long-sought rule to lower pollution standards for power plants and another to make it easier to build coal-fired plants and refineries near national parks were abandoned because the administration claims it did not want to violate a self-imposed order against so-called “;midnight regulations.”; However, court rulings had complicated making the changes as well.

The administration, however, didn't feel the same about pushing through last-minute rules that profoundly affect the Endangered Species Act, of particular concern for Hawaii's vulnerable environment.

The rules, rewritten hastily and sped through the bureaucratic process, eliminate some of the mandatory reviews by independent scientists of government projects for risks to endangered species. They also ban federal agencies from evaluating the harms of greenhouse gases on species and habitats.

The issue of greenhouse gases had especially irritated the administration after the Supreme Court ruled the government had the ability to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act, which it balked at doing.

The court's decision relates to another rule the Interior Department finalized on the polar bear, a species listed as threatened last May because its icy habitat was disappearing due to global warming. The rule gives the bear's protection short shrift, allowing fossil-fuel exploration in their habitats as long as it complies with the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which affords fewer protections than the species act.

The rules represent the administration's coup de grace to environmental responsibility.