For Immediate Release
Bush Administration Regulations Gutting Protections for Nation’s Endangered Species Published Today
Conservation Groups File Challenge to 11th Hour Reductions in Protections for Nation’s Wildlife Moves Forward
SAN FRANCISCO - Regulations announced by Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne last week 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) were published in the Federal Register today. A lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California by the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and Defenders of Wildlife the day the regulations were announced, December 11, 2008, drew Judge Marilyn Patel.
"These regulations 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 lawsuit argues that the regulations violate 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."
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.
"The polar bear and numerous other species threatened by climate change need the protections of the Endangered Species Act to survive," said Greenwald.