The Subversion of Irreversibility: Bush's Final Assault on Endangered Species

12/22/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Unlike most policy decisions, those leading to extinction are irreversible. That biological fact makes Bush's lame duck actions to undermine the Endangered Species Act all the more reprehensible.

Bush must publish his new rules to undermine current legislation by Friday, November 21 in order to ensure they take effect before January 20 when Obama will be sworn in. Oblivious to election results, indifferent to the will of the people, Bush apparently will do just that, disregarding more than 250,000 public comments on the proposed rules. Bush is standing on the White House balcony giving each and every one of us the middle-finger salute as his final gesture of governance.

Plants and animals currently protected by law from the impacts of dams, highways and other large-scale projects will no longer be if Bush has his way on his way out. He seems determined to leave a legacy of destruction by rushing to put these rules in place before Obama can reverse his subversive actions.

Have no doubt that these rules have been rushed with the sole intent of preventing Obama from taking corrective actions when he assumes power. The Interior Department worked furiously to finalize the rules over the vigorous objections of many Representatives in the Congress and a phalanx of environmentalists. The changes were proposed by Bush on November 12 after 3 months of frantic activity, and they have changed little in spite of the massive influx of public input.

I have written before that one goal of this parting act is to exclude from consideration the emission of greenhouse gases when evaluating if a species could be harmed by a new project. This rule change is designed specifically to aid the coal industry, further indication that Bush has nothing but disdain for those concerned about climate change. But the most absurd rule change will exclude advice from the government's own biologists who evaluate the impact of federal projects such as dams on endangered species. Currently, independent wildlife biologists must evaluate and sign off on a project. That will no longer be the case. Amazingly, under the new rules the federal agency in charge of a proposed project will also be the same agency that determines if the project will have a negative impact on species. That is not just the fox guarding the hen house of rare fowl; that is a federal mandate to have the fox eat the last individual of the species he is supposed to be protecting.

This final act of aggression culminates a concerted eight year campaign to gut the Endangered Species Act. Only 59 species have been placed on the list under Bush's watch. His father listed 58 species per year for each year in office. Bill Clinton placed an average of 62 species per year for eight years. In the past two years, Bush has the astonishing record of listing no native species as endangered, a biological absurdity. Bush routinely discards scientific advice. He effects change not through the transparent process of proposing legislation but through the secretive means of procedural shifts, and by overturning long-standing policies with lack of enforcement. He departs the Oval Office on a trail of shame.

This action by Bush is outrageous, a final nail in the tainted legacy of failed presidency.