Tucson, AZ—The Bush Administration has announced that they want federal agencies to decide whether projects on public lands harm endangered animals and plants. These proposed regulations will not require the approval of Congress and would reduce the independent reviews that have been performed for the past three decades.
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest and Public Lands, has released a statement concerning this issue:
“I am disappointed once again by the recent announcement that the lame duck Bush White House plans to roll back the protections for endangered species before leaving office. It doesn’t surprise me that the legacy this President wants to leave is one of further environmental degradation and loss of more species who are already on the brink of extinction.
“The American public has repeatedly stated that they want to maintain or strengthen the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, the Bush Administration continues to move forward in its quest to weaken the law’s key safeguards for species and habitats.
“The proposed rule, which has been characterized by the Administration as “narrow modifications to ESA regulations,” is really a direct assault on the fundamental underpinning of the law—the requirement that federal agencies must consult with Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to determine if their proposed actions, such as dam construction or logging national forests, will jeopardize endangered species, and modify those actions should they be deemed harmful.
“Certain industry groups have lobbied aggressively to weaken the ESA’s habitat protections because these protections sometimes cause delays and require projects to be adjusted to address the needs of wildlife.
“If this rule becomes final, the Bureau of Reclamation will get to decide if their river operations harm endangered salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest, and he Navy will determine if their sonar testing hurts endangered whales off the California coast without the benefit of the expert advice of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries.
“Given this Administration’s track record with regard to the protection of species in recent years, I am not optimistic that these other agencies will choose to do the right thing, or “err on the side of caution in making these determinations,” as the Administration claims they will.
“For those of us on the border, we have seen the recklessness when environmental and health concerns are not taken into consideration. We cannot trust this proposal, which removes the public process and federal responsibility to ensure projects are holistic.
“For the Administration to propose this broad sweeping rule with only five months left in its tenure, and with only a 30 day window for public comment, is reprehensible.
“This is just one more example of their ongoing efforts to undermine the environmental protections that have been in place in this country for more than 30 years. What the previous majority in Congress couldn’t accomplish legislatively, the Administration is now trying to do through revised regulations.
“Whether it’s clean water, clean air, or endangered species, the Administration is demonstrating that its first priority is anything but the health of the American people and our environment.”