Today, the AP reports on new draft rules being proposed by the Bush administration to gut the Endangered Species Act. This would be the biggest change to the groundbreaking legislation since 1988, and would not require the approval of Congress.
Currently, federal agencies are required to consult with an independent agency — the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or the National Marine Fisheries Service — to determine whether a project would harm an endangered species. The AP reports that under the new rules, agencies would simply be able to “decide for themselves”:
The Bush administration wants federal agencies to decide for themselves whether highways, dams, mines and other construction projects might harm endangered animals and plants. New regulations, which don’t require the approval of Congress, would reduce the mandatory, independent reviews government scientists have been performing for 35 years, according to a draft obtained by The Associated Press.
The draft rules also would bar federal agencies from assessing the emissions from projects that contribute to global warming and its effect on species and habitats.
This measure mirrors legislation proposed in 2005, by then-Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), a close ally of Jack Abramoff. Pombo proposed weakening the Endangered Species Act. Among other measures, Pombo’s bill would have eliminated review by the FWS or the Fisheries Service, allowing agencies to pursue unspecified “alternative procedures.” Pombo’s GOP-majority House cleared his bill, but it failed to go anywhere in the Senate. Bush is now bypassing Congress to push the legislation forward before he leaves office.
The Bush administration has been attempting to bypass or kill the Endangered Species Act for years. Recently, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff used his power to waive federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, in order to expedite building the U.S.-Mexico border fence. Unclear if the new rules are the doing of Vice President Cheney, who has been maneuvering increased control over environmental policies.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is backing the rule changes, “saying they will ensure the statute is not used as a ‘back door’ to regulate the gases blamed for global warming.”