Thursday, August 14, 2008

PAYOFF TIME AGAIN

Just when we were beginning to think there might be some letup in the attacks of the Bush Administration on our environmental laws (there’s an election coming up isn’t there?) they pop out a new one. This one, if it becomes law, would drastically weaken the whole Endangered Species Act. On the other hand, I remind myself – that is exactly why they are making this last run at the ESA now: because of that election. Got to hurry!

Why? In plain and simple Political English, there isn’t much time left to “reward” (some might say “pay off”) those corporate contributors who helped put this crew in office. Those millions invested by the timber, oil, and mining industries in the 2000 and 2004 campaigns, weren’t given as a charity. One hoped-for ‘return on investment’ was to emasculate the Endangered Species Act itself.

Hence this “reward” and why it is proposed now. Earlier attacks on the law by these same folks have failed miserably in Congress. One chance for success remains: the Executive Branch. Lots of friends there. This latest assault, is, in Bushspeak, termed as “just a few minor modifications” to the Endangered Species Act.

Uh-huh. ‘No big deal,’ says Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall; ‘it just removes an inconvenient requirement: that government agencies who promote logging, mining, oil wells, and dams on our public lands, must first consult with the expert biologists of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.’ That vital part of the Act was legislated by Congress decades ago to ensure that any new clearcuts, logging roads, drilling pads, and dams – would not do grave damage to any endangered species which lived in the project area. If it’s all voluntary, what’s the point of a law at all? But, says Hall, ‘since our government agencies really do care about imperiled species, they can best decide if there is any problem.’

Right. Raise your hands, anyone who believes this. The utter failure of these agencies to do almost anything to protect species was the reason Congress passed the ESA in 1973 (with enormous bipartisan majorities) in the first place.

To call this travesty a “minor modification” is, to put it politely, a falsehood, a huge lie. If implemented it will inflict grievous and permanent harm on nearly every habitat, plant, and animal the American people voted to protect over three decades ago. It strikes at the very heart of the Endangered Species Act itself – the so-called “Section 7 consultation provision.” This single requirement has likely rescued more species and their habitats than any other in the whole statute. If it is gutted via this backdoor process, we can kiss goodbye to almost any possibility that any agency will act to protect any imperiled plant or animal, ever again.

When I first learned of this “proposal,” my reaction was “this must be some kind of joke!” It is so blatantly illegal, even for this Administration. But now we know it is serious. It will be published as a draft rule, for – get this – 30 whole days of public comment. Immediately after this pro forma exercise, it will be approved. Got to hurry!

If I were an industry lobbyist, I’d be rejoicing at the prospect of such a “reward” in the final days of this Administration. If I was anybody else, any person who loved the wild and natural places of my country and the plants and animals who inhabit them, I’d say this is the time to fight back. This outrageous payoff cannot be allowed to stand. Now is the time to speak out, and tell our politicians that we will not permit our Endangered Species Act to be so “ruled” out of existence.

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