The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Bill Boteler (202) 265-7337

Federal Wildlife Agencies Ordered to Ignore Global Warming

No Review of New Greenhouse Gas Pollution for Impact on Species or Habitat


Top Bush administration officials have forbidden wildlife agencies
from analyzing the effects of greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired
power-plants or any other project on species and habitat, according to
documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). These directives are designed to block the
Endangered Species Act (ESA) from being used as a legal tool for
addressing global warming.

In a recent series of memos, the Interior Department, National
Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) have ruled that since no single source of
greenhouse gases will by itself cause detectable climate change,
therefore there can be no official review of possible effects on
wildlife or their habitats.

In an October 3, 2008 memo to Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Interior
Solicitor David Berhardt concluded that there are no "indirect effects"
on wildlife that can be isolated to specific greenhouse gas sources.
Moreover, "cumulative effects" Berhardt opined "are of no relevance in
determining whether a proposed action 'may affect listed species or
critical habitat.'"

Similarly, in an October 10, 2008 letter, James Lecky, Director of
NOAA's Office of Protected Species, wrote that impacts on coral and
other marine species as well as effects on ocean temperatures and
acidity cannot be traced to any one source of greenhouse gas and
therefore, no consultation under ESA is required before proceeding.
While conceding the question was "an important issue of first
impression that is of national significance," Lecky, nonetheless,
reached his conclusion in one week following a request from EPA and
without consulting agency scientists. In 2002, Lecky was the official
whose actions led to a massive fish kill on the Klamath River, and
afterwards he was promoted to his current position.

"Despite findings by their own scientists that our atmosphere is
reaching the tipping point, these Bush appointees cling to circular
legalisms to justify continued inaction," stated PEER Executive
Director Jeff Ruch. "The Bush position is that the death by a thousand
cuts must be endured because we cannot know how many cuts we can

Since the Bush administration was forced this spring to list polar
bears as a threatened species under the ESA due to melting sea ice
habitat caused by global warming, there has been a concerted effort
both within and outside the White House to minimize application of this
powerful law against specific projects that aggravate the effects of
climate change. This posture is forcing wildlife agency officials to
deliver distinctly mixed messages. On May 14, 2008, U.S. Fish &
Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall ordered his staff to avoid ESA
consultations solely on the basis of greenhouse gas pollution.
Meanwhile, on his agency website Hall has posted this statement:

"The warming of the earth, however, could potentially
have more far-reaching impacts on wildlife and wildlife habitat than
any challenge that has come before us."

"In listing polar bears, the Interior Department admitted that
greenhouse gas-induced global warming is having undeniable effects on
wildlife, yet now it is saying it cannot justify any ameliorative
actions," Ruch added. "We have already reached the point where any
further addition of greenhouses gases will have indirect effects on
wildlife, and humans, all over the planet."


Read the Interior Solicitor memo

See the NOAA letter

View the James Lecky record at NOAA

Compare the statement from FWS Director Dale Hall

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.