Bush Looking to Weaken Endangered Species Act

Its not unusual for an outgoing President to take a few parting policy shots as they walk out the door. Apparently President Bush is getting a head start.

For years, ultra conservative Republicans have tried to undermine the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These Republicans have such an expansive view of the free market that they believe only species able to compete with human development should survive. Their best chance at weakening the ESA is by greatly reducing the scientific review process that evaluates the impact of a proposed development on an endangered or threatened species, like the blue whale, and its habitat.

For years, mainstream Republicans and Democrats have successfully blocked many attempts by ultra conservative Republicans to change the scientific review process. Unfortunately, anti-ESA forces have found a friend in the White House and a way to completely avoid Congressional authority.

Newly drafted regulations proposed within the Executive Branch would make two significant changes to the ESA and would not require Congressional authorization.

The first change would remove the current independent review process that has been completed by objective government scientists for 35 years. Under existing law, a project built, funded or authorized by a federal agency must be submitted to either the Fish & Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service where scientists independently evaluate the project for any impacts on endangered or threatened species. If the proposed changes to the ESA take place, there will no longer be this independent review and the agency overseeing the project will make its own determination of risk to species. Even if that agency has no scientific expertise or experience with endangered species, they can decide if a project is acceptable.

The second change to the ESA being proposed is a complete ban on considering a proposed project's contributions to global climate change. Many agencies have sought out the authority to consider greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the climate or species when reviewing a project. Ultra conservative Republicans and President Bush want to make sure this type of consideration is illegal under the ESA.

If the proposed changes are approved, they would be the most significant changes to the Endangered Species Act since 1988. Already, President Bush has been criticized for using bureaucratic obstacles and red tape to make it harder to list a species as endangered or threatened. His new proposed regulations would essentially end the power of the ESA. A federal government handbook from 1998 described the independent scientific consultations as "some of the most valuable and powerful tools to conserve listed species."

Once the proposed changes are officially filed, a 60-day comment period would be initiated and supporters or opponents of the changes could voice their opinions. After that, the regulation would be approved prior to the November election. A new President would have the authority to reverse or freeze the changes, but that could take months. Congress could pass legislation blocking the changes, but that would take even longer.

To read more about the proposed changes, click HERE.

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