This piping plover prosh and cute has some challenges ahead and your help is needed. The usual birder apathy can't go on with this: The Bush administration wants federal agencies to decide for themselves whether highways, dams, mines and other construction projects might harm endangered animals and plants (seriously, do we really think this is a good idea and that a lack of checks and balances is going to work for endangered species?).
New regulations, which don't require the approval of Congress, would reduce the mandatory, independent reviews government scientists have been performing for 35 years, according to a draft first obtained by The Associated Press.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said late Monday the changes were needed to ensure that the Endangered Species Act would not be used as a "back door" to regulate the gases blamed for global warming (yeah, this is the way to deal with that whole Climate Change situation--don't worry folks, Mother Earth is just "experiencing the vapors"). In May, the polar bear became the first species declared as threatened because of climate change. Warming temperatures are expected to melt the sea ice the bear depends on for survival.
The draft rules would bar federal agencies from assessing the emissions from projects that contribute to climate change and its effect on species and habitats. The changes would apply to any project a federal agency would fund, build or authorize that might harm endangered wildlife and their habitat. Government wildlife experts currently perform tens of thousands of such reviews each year.
Under current law, federal agencies must consult with experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether a project is likely to jeopardize any endangered species or to damage habitat, even if no harm seems likely. This initial review usually results in accommodations that better protect the 1,353 animals and plants in the United States listed as threatened or endangered and determines whether a more formal analysis is warranted.
The Interior Department said such consultations are no longer necessary because federal agencies have developed expertise to review their own construction and development projects, according to the 30-page draft obtained by the AP.
The new rules were expected to be formally proposed immediately, officials said. They would be subject to a 60-day public comment period before being finalized by the Interior Department, giving the administration enough time to impose them before November's presidential election. A new administration could freeze any pending regulations or reverse them, a process that could take months. Congress could also overturn the rules through legislation, but that could take even longer.
The proposal was drafted largely by attorneys in the general counsel's offices of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Interior Department, according to an official with the National Marine Fisheries Service, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan hadn't yet been circulated publicly. The two agencies' experts were not consulted until last week, the official said.
Between 1998 and 2002, the Fish and Wildlife Service conducted 300,000 consultations. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which evaluates projects affecting marine species, conducts about 1,300 reviews each year.
The reviews have helped safeguard protected species such as bald eagles, Florida panthers and whooping cranes. A federal government handbook from 1998 described the consultations as "some of the most valuable and powerful tools to conserve listed species."
In recent years, however, some federal agencies and private developers have complained that the process results in delays and increased construction costs.
"We have always had concerns with respect to the need for streamlining and making it a more efficient process," said Joe Nelson, a lawyer for the National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition, a trade group for home builders (because we need more houses because the market is so great right now) and the paper industry (whatever happened to the paperless office?) and farming industry (pesticides anyone?).
The sponsor of that bill, then-House Resources chairman Richard Pombo, R-California, told the AP Monday that allowing agencies to judge for themselves the effects of a project will not harm species or habitat. "There is no way they can rubber stamp everything because they will end up in court for every decision," he said.