09/11/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Interior Secretary with His Pants Down

As I write this, the AP is breaking the story about (and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is putting together an emergency press conference to discuss) the Bush administration's secret plan to repeal the most important sections of the Endangered Species Act. From what we know of the plan, it reprises all of the disdain for science and political trumping of expertise that has characterized previous Bush administration efforts to dismantle fundamental environmental laws. And it sends a clear signal that the administration will spend the rest of its days razing the rules and regulations left standing.

This plan to render the ESA impotent would exclude federal biologists from  decisions about whether a federal project threatens species, and it specifies that if an agency chops its projects into small-enough pieces, then "by definition" the project is so small that it cannot be a threat!

So now Kempthorne is going public. These changes have already been called "illegal" by Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer and hearken back to the early days of the ESA and the National Environmental Policy Act, when agencies routinely claimed their projects wouldn't endanger the environment because each segment of a road would have no impact on air pollution, and no one timber sale would wipe out a species. The courts repeatedly rebuffed these efforts, so Boxer is on strong ground -- and Congress will have a chance to overturn any rule the administration issues while it is in session. But this announcement makes it clear that in the next 100 days the administration will try to do by regulation what it has been blocked from doing for the past eight years.