Administration Stalks Wildlife
The Bush administration's effort to free federal agencies from the Endangered Species Act is bad environmental policy and a waste of tax dollars. The eleventh hour rule change announced by the Interior Department would allow the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Highway Administration and other agencies to decide whether their projects would have an impact on an endangered creature. They would not have to consult with independent wildlife biologists. So you can imagine how often the federal agencies are going to determine that the dam, highway or other project they want to build is going to be a threat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would not be allowed to review the projects, much less raise objections. The rule robs the process of objectivity and integrity.Moreover, it is likely to lead to costly litigation. Already environmental groups have filed suit. The courts a few years ago found a similar attempt by the Bush administration to exclude the expertise of wildlife experts in federal decisions was improper. The 2004 rule change would have allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to determine whether pesticides posed a threat to endangered species without consulting with wildlife experts. The courts tossed it. Supporters of the recent rule change worry the Endangered Species Act might be used to regulate greenhouse emissions in roundabout way. Since the polar bear is listed as endangered, for instance, its status could be used to stop a coal-fired plant or even a highway. But those fears are wildly inflated. The law rarely stops a project. It simply requires federal agencies to consider if development projects may harm listed species. But it also requires a balancing of species protection with economic impacts and includes provisions designed to minimize conflicts with landowners. In all likelihood, the courts will reject the Bush administration's last-minute effort to gut the Endangered Species Act. But if that doesn't occur, the Obama administration should move quickly to reverse this irresponsible poly.