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.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bush Rewrites the Endangered Species Act

The Bush administration has just proposed a massive weakening of the Endangered Species Act.

For the past 35 years, scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service assessed whether the actions of other federal agencies would harm threatened and endangered species. The Bush administration’s lawyers have decided to remove that requirement and instead essentially let agencies decide for themselves if their highway, dam, mining, drilling or other construction project would harm wildlife. However, since the missions of these other agencies are not to protect wildlife—indeed, sometimes their missions are in direct opposition to the protection of wildlife and wild lands—they should not be allowed to make that decision alone.

The Bureau of Land Management boasts that it is one of the top revenue-generating agencies in the federal government—with its oil and gas leasing activities generating billions. The Bureau of Reclamation states that it is best known for the dams, power plants and canals that it has built. The Army Corps of Engineers provides “engineering services and capabilities” from peace to war operations.

These are the agencies that may get to decide if their activities will harm species—really? This is like giving the fox the lone key to the hen house. These agencies will have much greater freedom to mine, log and destroy our public lands.

To add insult to injury, the Bush administration’s new guidelines also forbid federal agencies from assessing the impact that endangered species may suffer from actions that increase global warming threats. This despite the fact that endangered species are some of the most likely ones to be affected by our warming climate.

The Bush administration’s proposed rules are an assault on the heart of the Endangered Species Act—the federal government’s responsibility to do no harm to endangered species. The federal government has an obligation to future generations to be good stewards and protect endangered species and the places they call home, especially the habitat that occurs on land owned in common by all Americans.

Why should you care? Because endangered species collectively serve as a canary in the coal mine for all of us. We breathe the same air, and we drink the same water as they do. When we’re protecting wildlife and their wild lands, we’re actually protecting you and me and our very basic needs for survival.