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Midnight Mischief

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Outgoing Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has just finalized last-minute regulations gutting the endangered species act, a move opposed by the public, Congress, and President-elect Obama, but a favorite cause of the oil, coal and mining industries, as well as the free-market, anti-regulatory ideologues who brought us our current recession.

The new regs forbid consideration of global warming as a cause of extinction -- something Kempthorne was forced to do earlier this year to protect the endangered polar bear. This piece of midnight rule-making may undo the overwhelmingly popular and scientifically supported protections for the polar bear. The new regulations also relieve federal agencies from having to consult federal wildlife scientists when considering projects and permits that might affect endangered species. Instead, the agencies championing the projects can consult with themselves.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and Defenders of Wildlife immediately filed suit in the Northern District of California to stop the regulations, on the grounds that they violated the very law they are supposed to implement. The Bush Administration also may have violated procedures by improperly dispensing with the overwhelmingly negative public comment on the new regulations -- over 300,000 written comments were filed, but the administration spent only two to three weeks reviewing them (which means a comment would have had to be dispensed with every three seconds).

As Jamie Rappaport Clark, a former director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, now with Defenders of Wildlife, put it: "This administration's disdain for wildlife and the environment has never been more clear than it is today... They are doing everything they can to cement their anti-environmental legacy before the Obama administration takes office."

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