The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Endangered Species Coalition, Leda Huta, 202-320-6467
National Wildlife Federation, Aislinn Maestas, 202-797-6624
Sierra Club, Kristina Johnson, 415-977-5619
Earthjustice, Susan Holmes, 202-667-4500
Center for Biological Diversity, Bill Snape, 202-536-9351

Bush Administration Undermines Endangered Species Protections

Midnight Rule Ignores Widespread Opposition, Violates Endangered Species Act


Today, the Bush Administration released their final rule of a controversial plan to change how the Endangered Species Act is implemented by the federal government.

"Knowing America's love for wildlife, it's no surprise that President Bush waited until the last second to reveal his administration's true intention-disabling the Endangered Species Act," said Leda Huta, Executive Director of the Endangered Species Coalition. "Removing the Act's requirement to have trained scientists review federal projects is like taking the tires off an ambulance; it is still an ambulance, but it can't get anyone to the emergency room and offers a lot less protection."

This midnight rule change enables government agencies to decide for themselves when a proposed project or plan would negatively impact an endangered species and codifies the administration's desire to ignore the impacts of global warming on the nation's wildlife, fish and plants.

"These rules will be a lasting reminder of all of the disdain for science and political trumping of expertise that have characterized the Bush Administration's efforts to dismantle fundamental environmental laws. When it comes to protecting wildlife, we should listen to the scientists who spend their lives studying these animals. If they say global warming is the biggest threat to polar bears, then we should do what it takes to eliminate that threat," said Sierra Club Deputy Director Bruce Hamilton.

Currently, when a federal agency considers new projects, such as highways, oil leases, timber sales or water diversions, they are required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) about impacts that their projects might have on endangered or threatened species. The expert scientists in these two agencies can then help council how a project may move forward with the least possible impact on vulnerable species. The new rule would allow a project to proceed without any input from the wildlife agencies, if the government agency in charge of the decision determines for itself that no harm will be done to a listed species.

"Wildlife and marine biologists form the pillars of scientific integrity that support the Endangered Species Act. Knocking them out of the decision-making process will erode the foundation of this bedrock law and make it significantly harder to protect endangered species," said John Kostyack, Executive Director of Wildlife and Global Warming for the National Wildlife Federation.

Concerns raised by the Congressional Research Service, the Attorney General of California, scientists, environmental lawyers and others indicate the proposed regulations may violate the Endangered Species Act, allow federal actions to proceed that would harm endangered species and create more work for federal agencies. According to the Department of the Interior, the agency received approximately 300,000 public comments, with only one percent supporting the changes. The agency provided only one week for the comments to be processed in their attempt to finalize these changes before the Obama administration begins.

"It is wrong for the Bush administration to try to deny protections for our most endangered wildlife as the administration wraps up its final days in office," said Susan Holmes of Earthjustice. "And to push these regulations through during the holidays is particularly disturbing."

The rule also expressly ties agency scientists' hands when it comes to protecting wildlife from global warming.

"That Bush and Cheney would purposely consign America's wildlife to extinction due to this Administration's ideological hostility toward the reality of global warming not only flies in the face of science, but also represents one of the greatest political abominations in history. These illegal endangered species regulations are yet another sorry chapter in the obsequious love affair the Bush Interior Department possesses with the old school oil, gas and coal industries," said William J. Snape, III, Senior Counsel, Center for Biological Diversity.

The Endangered Species Coalition's mission is to stop the human-caused extinction of our nation's at-risk species, to protect and restore their habitats, and to guide these fragile populations along the road to recovery.