The Associated Press reports today that, as part of its long-fought campaign to gut the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Bush administration is pushing a last-minute regulatory change that would significantly weaken the ESA:
The rules would eliminate the input of federal wildlife scientists in some endangered species cases, [by allowing] the federal agency in charge of building, authorizing or funding a project to determine for itself whether a project would be likely to harm endangered wildlife and plants.
At today’s White House press conference, a reporter asked if the Associated Press had accurately described the proposed regulatory change. Perino responded first by saying she didn’t have the documentation with her, but suggested that the rule change would have little effect because the ESA doesn’t help protect “any species, including ours” anyway:
PERINO: I don’t have [the documentation] with me. I know conceptually what we support. And I know that the Endangered Species Act is a tangled web that doesn’t actually help support any species, including our own. …
Q: (Laughter) So you’re proposing eliminating it?
Perino’s wholesale dismissal of the ESA could not be more inaccurate. Indeed, the law is responsible for saving, among other species, the Grey Wolf, the Grizzly Bear, and perhaps most notably our national bird, the American Bald Eagle. While Perino dismissed the rule change as insignificant, a spokesperson for the National Wildlife Federation explained, “These changes take unbiased, professional wildlife biologists out of the equation and put decisions in the hands of political appointees.”
More disturbing, however, is how widespread the last-minute assault on the federal government’s environmental regulatory structure has become. The White House’s other last minute initiatives include:
— Eliminating environmental reviews of fishing regulations. A rule change proposed by National Marine Fisheries Service would repeal a requirement that “environmental impact statements be prepared for certain fisheries-management decisions.” Instead, the government would “give review authority to regional councils dominated by commercial and recreational fishing interests.”
— Allowing more emissions from power plants. Over the objections of half of its 10 regional administrators, the Environmental Protection Agency is “finalizing new air-quality rules that would make it easier to build coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and other major polluters near national parks and wilderness areas” by weakening the Clean Air Act.
— Opening protected wilderness areas to energy development. Despite being blocked by “federal court and administrative rulings,” the Bureau of Land Management is “reviving plans to sell oil and gas leases in pristine wilderness areas in eastern Utah that have long been protected from development.”
As Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, told the Wall Street Journal, “This administration will stop at nothing to jam through as many reckless proposals as they can before the clock runs out.”