While the Bush administration is certainly in its last throes, their officials still have a significant amount of damage left to inflict on our country.
Furthering the Republicans war against science, the Bush administration is near finalizing a regulatory overhaul of the Endangered Species Act that will fundamentally change the way threatened plants and animals have been protected in the U.S. since December 1973.
"The Bush administration wants to make it easier for drilling, mining and major construction projects to go ahead without a full scientific assessment," BBC news reports. The changes will effect any project a federal agency would fund, build, or authorize that might potentially impact an endangered plant or animal.
For nearly 35 years, "the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service have reviewed any federal plans that could potentially protect endangered animals or plants. Under the administration's proposed rule, these independent scientific reviews would no longer be required if the agency in question determined that its activities would not hurt the imperiled species," the Washington Post reports.
The "rule eliminating the mandatory, independent advice of government scientists in decisions about whether dams, highways and other projects are likely to harm species looked likely to meet the deadline" of this Friday, the Associated Press adds.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne introduced this regulatory change in August, which have been under review by the Office of Management and Budget. "We believe federal action agencies will err on the side of caution in making these determinations," Kempthorne proposal stated.
Despite more than 250,000 comments about the proposed rule change, the Kempthorne regulatory relaxation remains almost unchanged. The Bush administration reviewed 200,000 of those comments in only 32 hours. The administration has been rushing to get the new rule changes published by tomorrow.
"We started this; we want to finish this," Tina Kreisher, an Interior Department spokeswoman, said.
"This proposed regulation is another in a continuing stream of proposals to repeal our landmark environmental laws through the back door," she said. "If this proposed regulation had been in place, it would have undermined our ability to protect the bald eagle, the grizzly bear and the gray whale," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in August responding to Kempthorne announcement.
"This is a shining example of the brash giveaways to industry we expect to see during the Bush administration's final days, and a new Congress will stand at the ready to use our authority to overturn this and other harmful rules," said Rep. Edward Markey, (D-MA), chairman of the House select committee for energy independence and global warming, to the AP.
By publishing the rule changes this Friday, they will take effect before Bush leaves office. Only Congress could still reverse the rules through the Congressional Review Act. However, if by some change the Bush administration misses Friday's deadline, then President-elect Barack Obama can undo them with with his signature.
A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Drew Hammill, said:
"The House, in consultation with the incoming administration and relevant committees, will review what oversight tools are at our disposal regarding this and other last-minute attempts to inflict severe damage to the law in the waning moments of the Bush administration."
If the Bush administration publishes the new rules by Friday and Congress fails to act, then it will more difficult for the Obama administration to overturn "since it would require the new administration to restart the rule-making process." During the campaign, an Obama spokesperson said that, as president, Obama would undo the proposal.
"After over 30 years of successfully protecting our nation's most endangered wildlife like the bald eagle, we should be looking for ways to improve it, not weaken it," Obama campaign spokesman Nick Shapiro said.
Through this rule change, the Bush administration will undo years of successful U.S. environmental policy to benefit land developers; something conservative Republicans have been unable to do through legislation. In 2005, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) sponsored a bill in the House that would have eliminated scientific review. His bill passed the House, but died in the Senate.
This is but the latest weakening of the Endangered Species Act. In March, the Washington Post reported that Endangered species listings had fallen during the Bush administration. By using "little-noticed procedural and policy moves over several years," the Bush administration "made it substantially more difficult" to protect endangered animals and plants.
January 20, 2009 cannot arrive soon enough.
Cross-posted from Docudharma.