Bush Administration slashes Endangered Species Act

Well, they did it. The Bush Administration on Thursday announced long-promised new regulations that effectively cripple the Endangered Species Act. The last-minute "midnight ruling" by the lame-duck administration removes the ESA requirement for independent scientific review for government construction projects which could impact an endangered species.

Before these rules, government agencies needed to consult with the Fish & Wildlife Service to see if any of their projects might have an effect on an endangered plant or animal. Now, the agencies get to make up their own minds, without consultation or scientific review.

The new regulations also say that the Endangered Species Act can not be used as a backdoor tool to regulate greenhouse gases and fight climate change. In fact, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne tried to gloss over these new regulations by saying they were just a "clarification" and would protect businesses from global-warming crackdowns.

"We heard a lot about global warming and the polar bear," said Janette Brimmer, and attorney for Earthjustice, "but to really get behind this, you need to understand that this is a swan-song from the Bush administration and a hand-out to various industries. Agencies don't have the will or the expertise to make these [impact] decisions on their own. And yet the Bush Administration sees fit to weaken these regulations this late in the game and use global warming as a scapegoat."

Speaking of the polar bear, the Interior Department also snuck another new ruling in on Thursday, further limiting the barest of protections it had given the polar bear earlier this year. They say the polar bear is already protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act, so it doesn't get the full range of ESA rights. Uh huh.

President-elect Obama reportedly does not support any changes to the Endangered Species Act. Since these new rules come so late, Obama has the opportunity to overturn them when he takes office. Hopefully he will, or he won't be so distracted by the Bush economy and foreign policy mess that he doesn't have time to act on environmental legislation.

We'll see. Until then, expect lawsuits. Lots and lots of lawsuits.

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