The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity,
(503) 484-7495 cell
Cat Lazaroff, Defenders of Wildlife, 202-365-1329 cell                
Kochersperger, Greenpeace, (202) 680-3798 cell

Bush Administration Finalizes Regulations Gutting Protections for Nation's Endangered Species

Conservation Groups File Immediate Challenge to 11th Hour Reductions in Protections for Nation’s Wildlife


Secretary of the Interior
Dirk Kempthorne today finalized regulations that would eviscerate our
nation's most successful wildlife law by exempting thousands of federal
activities, including those that generate greenhouse gases, from review under
the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

"The regulations that were finalized today undermine
fundamental protections for the nation's endangered species," said
Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director of the Center for Biological
Diversity. "We hope an Obama administration or Congress will act quickly
to undo this 11th hour attempt to weaken our most important law for
protecting wildlife."

The Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and
Defenders of Wildlife immediately filed suit in the Northern District of
California to stop the regulations, arguing that they violated the Endangered
Species Act and did not go through the required public review process.
First proposed on August 11th, the Bush administration rushed the
regulations through an abbreviated process in which over 300,000 comments from
the public were reviewed in 2-3 weeks, and environmental impacts were analyzed
in a short and cursory environmental assessment, rather than a fuller environmental
impact statement.

"This is a clear example of a lame duck administration
ramming through weakened regulations that are opposed by Congress and the
public," said Greenwald. "When the survival of species hangs
in the balance, public policy should not be rushed."

"This administration's disdain for wildlife and
the environment has never been more clear than it is today," said Jamie
Rappaport Clark, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife and former
director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. "For 35 years, the Endangered
Species Act has helped save and recover imperiled wildlife on the brink of
extinction. Now, with this administration facing its last days, they are doing
everything they can to cement their anti-environmental legacy before the Obama
administration takes office."

Under current regulations, federal agencies must consult
with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if the agencies permit, fund, or
otherwise carry out actions that "may affect" endangered species,
or if the Service has already determined those actions adversely affect
endangered species. Under the new regulations, federal agencies will themselves
determine whether their actions are likely to adversely affect endangered
species. That finding would in turn determine whether the agency must consult
with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"These regulations are a recipe for the extinction of
endangered species," said Greenwald. "It's a classic example
of letting the fox guard the henhouse. It would allow thousands of projects
that harm endangered species to move forward without mitigation."

The policy would also prohibit any consideration of the
impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from federal projects on endangered
species. Greenhouse gas emissions are currently predicted to result in
loss of half the world's polar bear population by 2050. If
today's proposed policy is enacted, the agency will not be able to
consider and mitigate such impacts.

"Members of the Bush administration have finally
admitted that greenhouse gas emissions are driving species like the polar bear
to extinction, yet they are doing everything in their power to ensure that
these emissions are not regulated or reduced," said Carroll Muffett,
deputy campaign director of Greenpeace USA.

The groups are represented by Eric Glitzenstein at Meyer,
Glitzenstein and Crystal