As their term neared its end, The Bush Administration released new regulations to change the way the Endangered Species Act is implemented by the government and prohibit needed efforts to prevent global warming from harming wildlife.
Congress paved the way for the Obama administration to help restore needed protection and they responded by putting key safeguards back in place .
How the Bush plan threatened endangered species
Chaining Up the Watchdog
For more than 20 years, when a federal agency considered building a highway, a dam, a mine, etc., they were required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) about impacts that their projects might have on species. When it is deemed necessary by FWS or NMFS, they then provide guidance on how to modify the project, so that it can move forward without harming species.
But last December, the Bush administration finalized new regulations to strip the endangered species program of this essential provision of the law. Under the new rules, federal agencies would have decided for themselves whether they needed to involve the fish and wildlife agencies, removing important checks and balances needed to keep our country’s fish, plants and wildlife safe.
This is an invitation for federal agencies to fast-track oil and gas mining, logging, and development without review of the impacts to our nation's wildlife, fish and plants on the brink of extinction. According to one of our member groups, the Center for Biological Diversity, history has shown this to be true. "When agencies were allowed to self-consult on logging activities in 2005, it turned out that 62 percent of those projects violated the Endangered Species Act.”
See No Harm, Hear No Harm, Speak No Harm
Another extremely dangerous part of these Bush changes was that the administration redefined how a project would be shown to cause a negative impact on species. Federal agencies could have claimed that they don’t need to consider the harm that they are doing to a species, whenever the impact from any individual project would have been “insignificant.” The problem with this, however, is that many, if not most, endangered species are not being harmed by one huge project that threatens to wipe them out. They are harmed by many small actions, which added up together have a tremendous impact on the habitat of the species. Just as it may not be possible to link a patient’s lung cancer to one individual cigarette, it may not always be possible to link the extinction of a species to just one harmful project.
But, that was the requirement of this new definition, if action were to be taken to save a species. For instance, if two-dozen new oil-drilling leases together would drive a species to extinction, but any one of them alone would have an "insignificant" impact, under these new rules, conceivably, all the new oil leases could go forward as is without making any changes to protect the species. For this reason, the fish and wildlife services are essential in providing the overall view of what is happening to a species and keeping them safe from “death by a thousand cuts.”
Ignoring Global Warming
Despite the fact that endangered species are some of the most at risk from the effects of global warming, the new regulations redefined key words in the law to try to prevent any action being taken to fight global warming on the species' behalf.
The huge secondary benefit to formally considering how global warming is impacting endangered species would be that the steps we could be taking to help protect wildlife and wild lands would have tremendous benefits to protecting humans. Burying our collective heads in the sand won’t stop melting glaciers or increased wildfires or more extreme weather events from impacting us all.
The Endangered Species Act is our nation's commitment to protecting the fish, plants and wildlife in danger of disappearing forever. We know global warming is one of the greatest threats these species face and we must not abandon our commitment to them just because the 'going is getting tough.'
Protections Have Been Restored
On April 28th, 2009 , Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke used a special power given to them by Congress to repeal the Bush administration's changes and restored the consultation rules to those that have been helping protect species for more than twenty years. Thank you Secretary Salazar and Secretary Locke!