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For Immediate Release, December 11, 2008

Contacts:  Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495 (cell)
Cat Lazaroff, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 365-1329 (cell)
Jane 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

SAN FRANCISCO— 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.

“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. The Bush administration first proposed the regulations on August 11th and rushed them through an abbreviated process in which more than 300,000 comments from the public were reviewed in two to three weeks. The new regulations’ 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,” Greenwald said. “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 U.S. 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 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 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.”

The policy also would prohibit any consideration of the harmful effects of greenhouse gas emissions from federal projects on endangered species. Scientists predict greenhouse gas emissions will trigger climate changes that will cause the death of half of 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.

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