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A giant step backwards for wildlife

Andrew Wetzler

Posted August 11, 2008

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Ahhh, the Bush Administration.  Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service announced that they are going to propose new regulatory changes to the Endangered Species Act that will dramatically weaken provisions of the law that apply to federal agencies.

Right now, federal agencies are required to check in with either the Wildlife Service or the Fisheries Service (depending on the species involved) if they want to take any action that “may affect” protected species.  For example, let’s say that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is asked to issue a permit to allow the destruction of 100 acres of wetlands on which an animal protected by the Endangered Species Act may be living.  Under today’s rules, the Corps must first consult with the federal wildlife agencies before it can issue this permit.  Under the new rules, the Corps could skip this step if—and here’s the crucial part—the Corps decides entirely on its own that the permit at issue would not have any adverse effect on the protected species.

Informally known as “self-consultation,” this policy is designed to vitiate the checks-and-balances that have made the Endangered Species Act so successful and it’s long been pushed by opponents of the Act.  The  insidiousness of self-consultation is especially plain once you consider that many federal agencies are deeply committed to either certain kinds of projects (the Bureau of Reclamation likes to build dams; the Department of Transportation likes highways) or are entirely sympathetic to particular industries (the Office of Surface Mining, for example).  It’s a cliche, but today’s proposal is as clear a case of letting the fox guard the henhouse as you’re ever likely to see. 

And these aren’t the only changes that are being proposed.  There are other items in the proposed regulation that are just as worrisome.  We should see a copy of the full regulatory proposal in the next few days.

UPDATE: You can read the Fish and Wildlife Service's news release announcing the changes here.

UPDATE II:  The NRDC Action Fund will be collecting comments on the proposed rule to give to the agency.  If you wish to comment, go here.

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Greg BealeAug 11 2008 09:52 PM

This contradicts the spirit and letter of the law...I hope NDRC files suit tomorrow.

laura mendozaAug 11 2008 10:08 PM

please NRDC stop this jerk! As of September 2007, Kempthorne holds the record for protecting fewer species over his tenure than any Interior Secretary in United States history, a record previously held by James G. Watt for over 20 years.

chris breecherAug 11 2008 11:34 PM

The Bush Administration is again side stepping the rule of law by undercutting the endangered species act. We are a democracy and this insideous incompitent conduct cannot be tolerated by our country. The executive branch is supposed to see to it that the law is fully carried out that was made by the congress. They are not suppose to tarnish the law to appease teir business allies. They talk of world democracy but at the same time Bush and his Administration are dismantling it in our very own country. This is dangerous not just for our imperiled wildlife but our democratic rule of law. This is of grave concern. Something has to be done to confront this unlawful insideous incompitence...

Susan VenegoniAug 12 2008 10:34 PM

Please comment on what we can do to voice our opposition to changing these regulations.


Mike LindleyAug 13 2008 11:32 AM

Why aren't the environmental groups lik NRDC and Sierra Club in court TODAY, RIGHT NOW to stop this illegal, destructive and amoral policy change to the ESA? In 30 days the ESA will be destroyed and what is left of America will be paved over, sub-divided, Wal-marted, golf coursed, etc. Why isn't NRDC sueing the government right now?

Andrew WetzlerAug 13 2008 11:56 AM


Right now the regulations are only proposals. Before anyone can challenge them, they need to be opened for public comments and then finalized. Once final regulations are published, they can be challenged in federal court.

In the meantime, everyone who cares about this issue should send official comments to the Secretary of the Interior about the proposed regulation. When the official comment period starts, NRDC and the NRDC Action Fund will post a "take action" page to make it easy for you to lodge an official comment with the agency.

Janie PetersAug 16 2008 03:13 PM

The Army Corps of Engineers will be handing out permits like candy.

Speaking of candy - I'm sure U.S. Fish & Wildlife Director H. Dale Hall is lookig forward to a sweet new job in January. Afterall, being a Bush lackey has its perks. Maybe he'll finally get to open that big game ranch he's always wanted.


Endangering the endangered on August 12, 2008 10:34 PM
His White House tenure may be ebbing, but President Bush couldn't resist taking one final jab at environmental protections he has long bristled against. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne wants to tweak the Endangered Species Act, the federal la...

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