THE BLOG
09/11/2008 05:12 am ET Updated 6 days ago

Bush Administration Readies Gutting Knife for Endangered Species Act

You didn't just think the Bush administration was going to leave quietly, did you? In a major scoop, the AP has uncovered the draft of a set of new regulations engineered by the Interior Department (and not subject to Congressional approval) that would allow federal agencies to decide for themselves whether infrastructure projects, like dams and highways, would harm endangered species. They would, in effect, greatly reduce the impact of the independent reviews government scientists have been carrying out over the last 35 years.

According to the AP, these major revisions would represent the biggest overhaul of the ESA since 1986. The proposed changes would essentially neuter the authority of wildlife experts (not that they ever mattered much for this administration) by giving federal agencies free rein to carry out large construction projects without consulting them about the environmental consequences. The Interior Department claims these consultations are no longer necessary, because the agencies are now capable of "reviewing" their own projects (right).

The administration plans on rushing these regulations through by leaving open only a 30-day public comment period, after which it would finalize the changes and implement them -- right before the November election. Stopping or reversing the changes would take several months, or even longer, giving developers precious time to work around current restrictions.

However depressing, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise, of course. As I've written about before, Bush and his acolytes have always made the dismantling of the ESA (among other pieces of environmental legislation) a priority:

The Bush administration has earned the dubious merit of adding the fewest number of species to the endangered list in the past six years than any other administration since 1973.

As a result, there is now a waiting list of 279 species on the edge of extinction and, out of the 1,326 already officially listed species, approximately 200 are close to total extinction. Furthermore, the Bush administration has removed 15 species from the list to date, a higher number than any previous administration.

Or take this nugget that my TreeHugger colleague John Laumer wrote about last year:

"Tired of losing lawsuits brought by conservation groups, the Bush administration issued a new interpretation of the Endangered Species Act that would allow it to protect plants and animals only in areas where they are struggling to survive, while ignoring places they are healthy or have already died out. The opinion by U.S. Department of Interior Solicitor David Bernhardt was posted with no formal announcement on the department's Web site on Friday."

Another example of the Bush administration at its "imaginative" best. After all, when it comes to circumventing the law, why let the Justice Department have all the fun?

This latest (and greatest) push comes, of course, after numerous failed attempts by both the administration and the GOP to force their hostility to the ESA down our throats, as the AP piece goes on to note:

In 2003, the administration imposed similar rules that would have allowed agencies to approve new pesticides and projects to reduce wildfire risks without asking the opinion of government scientists about whether threatened or endangered species and habitats might be affected. The pesticide rule was later overturned in court. The Interior Department, along with the Forest Service, is currently being sued over the rule governing wildfire prevention.

In 2005, the House passed a bill that would have made similar changes to the Endangered Species Act, but the bill died in the Senate.

Nothing to see here, folks: It's just another day at the Bush White House.