Endangered species meltdown


The Bush administration just won't quit trying to weaken the Endangered Species Act. Big rewrites require Congressional approval, so instead they're quietly revising the regulations that implement the act. 

In August, the administration proposed letting federal agencies decide for themselves if, say, a new dam or highway would harm any endangered or threatened species, rather than requiring the agencies to take advice from federal wildlife biologists. And, in the wake of the polar bear listing, the proposal also contained provisions to ensure that climate change effects don't have to be considered (hey, it's bad for business).

Now, leaked government documents from PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, show how administration officials are rushing to ensure that enviros won't again succeed in using the Endangered Species Act to help address global warming.

McClatchy has the story:

One of the memos, from the Interior Department's top lawyer, concluded that emissions of greenhouse gases from any proposed project can't be proved to have an impact on species or habitat, so it isn't necessary for federal agencies to consult with government wildlife experts about the impact of such gases on species as stipulated under the Endangered Species Act.

The new rules would mean, for example, that the EPA can approve a new coal-fired power plant without having to consider whether the plant's greenhouse gas emissions change the climate and thereby harm listed wildlife species.

Meanwhile, here's a recent message from Dale Hall, the director of those "government wildlife experts" (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service):

Dealing with the magnitude and uncertainty of climate change will require commitment and dedication of all of us in the Service, as well as the help and support of our partners and the American people. I have no doubt that by working together we can continue to conserve and protect our Nation’s fish and wildlife resources today, tomorrow and for generations to come.

Nice words. But apparently "our partners" should be amended to: "our partners, except for all other federal agencies."

paul correa
paul correa
Oct 17, 2008 09:16 AM
It would be nice if an impact statement analysis could consider global warming, but I didn't know it was possible to measure any connection between a green house gas emission and any species or habitat. Is it? What metric do you use? It doesn't seem as easy to do as measuring ppbs of chemicals in air or water, evaluating streamflows and sediment in waterways, or considering surveys and inventories of flora and fauna in a region that support a species.
The big picture
Jodi Peterson
Jodi Peterson
Oct 17, 2008 09:44 AM
Thanks for your comment, Paul. That's exactly the argument being used by the administration -- it's difficult to say how much a particular source contributes to climate change, or to measure the precise effects of climate change on a particular species ... so those questions can just be ignored. But we'll never make any meaningful headway on addressing climate change unless we start looking at the bigger picture. Every coal-fired power plant emits CO2, which contributes to climate change, which has a variety of effects (mostly harmful) to wildlife, vegetation and humans. No one can credibly dispute that. And yet we continue to approve such plants, and other CO2-producing projects, on the grounds that we can't say how much harm any single one of them causes. Death by a thousand cuts.
Surprisingly, I agree.
Aaron Kellerr
Aaron Kellerr
Oct 19, 2008 10:50 PM
Although I am terrified by the the proposed rule changes to allow federal agencies to determine their own projects' impacts, I find myself tentatively agreeing with the proposed rules that ignore a single project's impact on a species through climate change. I don't believe the ESA is an appropriate tool to use in a fight against a new coal-fired power plant or similar CO2 source. We need to regulate CO2 as a pollutant, if not under the Clean Air Act, then hopefully under an aggressive Climate Change Act signed by the next president. It seems to me that CO2 emissions require a more "targeted" regulatory framework than the ESA, and using the Act to that end only diminshes its intended purpose. However, I do believe it is critical for the Service to consider the cumulative effects of climate change when considering the listing of a species (like Governor Palin's favorite animal, the polar bear) and designing recovery plans. Considering climate change in recovery plans would likely require adjusting target population sizes upward to allow for increased ecological uncertainty accompanying the highly unpredictable climate shifts we are likely to experience. It seems the Service is already doing this in some cases, and hopefully it will continue under the new administration.