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For Immediate Release, August 11, 2008

Contacts: 

Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495
Kassie Siegel, (760) 366-2232 x 302

Bush Administration Proposes Draft Regulations Gutting
Protections for Nation's Endangered Species;
Proposal Would Exempt All Greenhouse Gas Emissions
From Endangered Species Act Oversight
 

PORTLAND, Ore.— Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today proposed 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.

“The proposed regulations are an absolute disaster for the nation’s endangered species,” said Noah Greenwald, science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Secretary Kempthorne seems determined to establish a legacy of environmental destruction and extinction and surpass even James Watt as the most anti-environmental interior secretary in U.S. history.” 

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,” Greenwald said. “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.”

Letting federal agencies determine the impacts of their own projects has already been tried, and that effort failed miserably. In 2003, the Bush administration published “ joint counterpart regulations for consultation under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act ... to streamline consultation on proposed projects that support the National Fire Plan.” The plan, an interagency strategy approved in 2000, was intended to encourage logging on public lands under the false pretense of reducing the likelihood of wildfires. Like the proposal announced today, the plan allowed the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to self-consult, rather than obtain Endangered Species Act approval from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

A federally mandated review by the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management violated the Endangered Species Act in 68 percent of projects conducted under the National Fire Plan.

The Interior Secretary suppressed a report on the review – in violation of department policy – rather than publish the results in the Federal Register, along with plans to fix the program.

“Having suppressed all evidence that self-consultation does not work, the Bush administration is now attempting to expand the program, rather than publicly acknowledge that it is a failure,” Greenwald said.

The administration has previously asserted that the Endangered Species Act does not require federal agencies to examine the impact of greenhouse-gas emissions on the polar bear and other species threatened by climate change. These regulations would codify the administration’s position.

“The very existence of these proposed regulations shows that the Endangered Species Act currently requires federal agencies to consider the impact of their greenhouse emissions on the polar bear, and the administration knows it,” said Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center and lead author of a formal petition to list the polar bear under the Act. 

“Rather than comply with the law, the administration is instead trying to change it,” Siegel said. “Such changes are illegal and would leave dead polar bears in their wake.” 

The policy would overturn the Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to integrate global warming into the Endangered Species Act consultation process. In northern New Mexico, for example, the agency recently required proponents of a new coal-fired power plant to calculate its greenhouse gas emissions and account for the damage those emissions would inflict on endangered species, especially those threatened by drought.

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,” Siegel said.


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