It wasn't unexpected, but today the Bush administration said it's going ahead extremely quickly with a proposal that has enraged environmentalists -- and is giving the public just 10 days to comment on it. I guess the Bushies can see 1/20/09 coming up very fast.
It sounds like a snoozer: changes in the consultation requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. The Bush administration calls the changes "narrow." But it's bound to mean big changes when federal agencies go out to build a dam, approve draining wetlands, and hundreds of other actions that can affect imperiled species, enviros say.
We knew the Bushies were in a hurry -- just the other day we mentioned how they're "reading" public comments at the rate of seven per minute -- but we didn't know they would propose to approve the whole shootin' match in just 10 days. Why, that would be... let's see... just a few days after the Nov. 4 election. What an interesting coincidence!
ushing to ease endangered species rules before President Bush leaves office, Interior Department officials are attempting to review 200,000 comments from the public in just 32 hours, according to an e-mail obtained by The Associated Press.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has called a team of 15 people to Washington this week to pore through letters and online comments about a proposal to exclude greenhouse gases and the advice of federal biologists from decisions about whether dams, power plants and other federal projects could harm species. That would be the biggest change in endangered species rules since 1986.
In an e-mail last week to Fish and Wildlife managers across the country, Bryan Arroyo, the head of the agency's endangered species program, said the team would work eight hours a day starting Tuesday to the close of business on Friday to sort through the comments. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne's office, according to the e-mail, will be responsible for analyzing and responding to them.
The public comment period ended last week, which initiated the review.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., whose own letter opposing the changes is among the thousands that will be processed, called the 32-hour deadline a "last-ditch attempt to undermine the long-standing integrity of the Endangered Species program."
It's a time of maximum danger for the environment. The clock is winding down on the Bush administration, leaving little time to fulfill its long-cherished dreams of weakening endangered species protections.
Not known for worrying about manipulating the rules, facts or common sense, the administration appears ready to go to absurd lengths to rush through damaging changes. Consider how the Department of the Interior is hurrying to cement into federal policy the administration's highhanded disdain for scientific advice, with a proposed rule that would exclude greenhouse gases and the advice of federal biologists from decisions about whether dams, power plants and other federal projects could harm endangered species. According to an Associated Press report, agency officials will review -- so to speak -- the 200,000 comments on the policy at a pace of one every nine seconds.
Somewhat similarly, the National Marine Fisheries Service is working on a rule to expedite all environmental reviews of fisheries decisions. After scheduling only three public hearings around the country, the agency then cut short a July hearing in Seattle, the only West Coast opportunity to comment. U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott last month requested an extension of the comment period.
The National Resources Defense Council questions whether Interior's policy will even meet legal requirements. It's particularly disappointing to see blatant politicization in Interior, where we have admired Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and thought of him as someone who could serve well in a McCain administration.
Kempthorne's aim apparently is to finish work early enough so the devastation of environmental protections can't be undone by the next administration without a years long formal review. There is an alternative that doesn't require waiting for a new administration. If Congress returns to work for an economic fix, it also should put an immediate stop to this nonsense.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - www.ifaw.org) applauds eBay's decision to institute a global ban on the sale of elephant ivory products by 1 January 2009 and calls on all other internet traders to follow their example.
eBay's decision was announced just hours before the release of IFAW's latest investigative report showing internet trade in wildlife poses a significant and immediate threat to the survival of elephants and many other endangered species.
The report, which followed a six-week investigation that tracked more than 7,000 wildlife product listings on 183 Web sites in 11 countries, singled out eBay as the largest contributor to the problem, responsible for almost two-thirds of the online trade in wildlife products worldwide
IFAW's report, Killing with Keystrokes: An Investigation of the Illegal Wildlife Trade on the World Wide Web, will be released tomorrow and shows that more than 70% of all endangered species' products listed for sale on the Internet occur in the United States. The amount of trade tracked in the U.S. was nearly 10 times the trade tracked in the next two leading countries, the United Kingdom and China.
Elephant ivory dominated the investigation, comprising 73% of all product listings tracked. Exotic birds were second, accounting for nearly 20% of the listings tracked, but primates, big cats and other animals are also falling victim to the e-trade in live animals and wildlife products, according to the report.
Alaska's governor and John McCain's high-flying running-mate, who lost in her attempt to stop the US government from declaring polar bears a threatened species, went 0-for-2 on Friday. That's when Washington decided to put the beluga whales of Alaska's Cook Inlet, which haven't recovered since their numbers were cut in half during the 1990s, on the endangered species list.
Why a whale derider? Palin on Friday called the decision ''premature'' and challenged government data on declining populations, as she has done regarding polar bears.
Lame ducks they may be. But President Bush and Vice President Cheney are using their last months in the White House to cram more sweets into the goodie bags of industry with yet more of their public-be-damned orders to create more misery for nature and the environment.
First out of their bags of tricks was an order to the Bureau of Land Management to ignore the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which allows Congress to take emergency action when public lands are threatened.
An Arizona congressman, Rep. Raul Grijalva, has invoked the congressional authority to prevent hard rock miners from activating some 10,000 mining claims on BLM and Forest Service lands adjoining the Grand Canyon.
The Bush-Cheney response was predictable. Ignore the law and proceed with authorizing mining after the public is given 15 days—15 days?—to object. The White House doesn't even have the grace to wait until a court decides whether the law can be ignored.
But wait. There's more in store. Simultaneously, the White House told the Interior Department, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency they cannot consider greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants or any other industrial source as threats to habitat or to species.
As GOP Sen. John McCain struggles to distance himself from President Bush on economic policy and the national debt, he also faces the tough task of separating himself from a Republican administration with the worst environmental record in recent years.
California has passed the most sweeping environmental measures in the nation, and voters in the state are likely to take into account the criticism McCain is getting from environmentalists for backing a Bush philosophy of ultra-light regulation under laws to protect endangered species, forests and clean air and water, experts say.
More than two-thirds of California voters questioned in a July poll said they disapproved of the way Bush was handling environmental issues in the United States. And 52 percent of the state's voters said they trusted Democratic Sen. Barack Obama to handle global warming and other environmental matters; 28 percent said they trusted McCain on the issue.
"I certainly think that people who are unhappy with Bush's handling of the environment are likely to be enthusiastic Obama supporters," said Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University professor who has sampled public opinion on environmental questions.
At the ballot box, worries over the economy won't eliminate concerns for the environment, research found.
The federal government on Friday placed the beluga whales in Alaska's Cook Inlet under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, concluding that a decade-long recovery program has failed to assure their survival.
"In spite of protections already in place, Cook Inlet beluga whales are not recovering," said James Balsiger, acting assistant administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The findings by NOAA's National Marines Fisheries Service conflict with claims by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has questioned scientific evidence that the beluga whale population in the waters near Anchorage continues to decline.
Palin, Republican presidential nominee John McCain's running mate, has strongly objected to the federal government's possible declaration of the whale as endangered.
It's the second run-in Palin has had with the Bush administration over the Endangered Species Act. She has asked the courts to overturn an Interior Department decision earlier this year declaring polar bears threatened under the federal law.
The Cook Inlet beluga is one of five beluga whale populations in Alaska waters but the only one considered endangered.
n August, the Bush administration proposed seriously weakening the Endangered Species Act by allowing government departments—most of which employ no biologists—to assess for themselves whether their proposed projects would jeopardize endangered species or their habitats.
Breaking with its own conventions, the Fish and Wildlife Service refused to accept comments by email. So several green groups took it upon themselves to accept email, print it out, and deliver it to the FWS.
Here's a video of them loading up the 100,000 comments they received into a minivan to deliver: boxes and boxes of comments. An unnecessary use of paper and gasoline, but it's satisfying to have a physical sense of how many people were incensed by the Bush administration's scheme.
Even as Republican Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman declared his state “open for business” to the oil-shale industry Monday in Golden, Democratic congressman Mark Udall of Colorado vowed to fight the Bush administration’s fast-tracking of commercial leasing in the West.
“We will go back to work and make sure that the interests of Colorado are protected when it comes to oil-shale development,” Udall told the Colorado Independent. “If we’re going to have a few months here where the Bush administration wants to try and pull another fast one like they’ve done on so many other ways, let them, but in January I believe that Republicans and Democrats will join together to make sure that the oil-shale development is done right.”
Udall, who’s running against former oil and gas executive and Republican congressman Bob Schaffer for Colorado’s open U.S. Senate seat, helped impose a one-year ban on commercial leasing that expired last month. Now Huntsman and other Bush allies want to see royalty regulations written and leases issued by the Bureau of Land Management before a new president and Congress come into power.
Speaking at an oil shale symposium at Colorado School of Mines in Golden Monday, Huntsmen lamented the regulatory gridlock on developing the resource, which is trapped in the form of kerogen in rocks and sand spread over parts of Utah, Wyoming and northwestern Colorado.
Mining that rock and extracting and refining oil from it is a process that takes intense temperatures and a great deal of electricity and water. Experts agree that much research and development is needed to make the process commercially viable in the coming decades.
On a quiet sage- and pine-dotted stretch of highway in southwest Colorado, deer and elk wander into the paths of oncoming cars so often that they account for 70% of the crashes that occur there.
If this were another road, Colorado transportation officials might fence it off to keep the animals from crossing. But the one-mile portion of U.S. Highway 160 is an important migration route for wildlife.
So the state is trying a different approach: an intrusion detection system that until now has been used to guard military bases and prisons and to protect the homes of the rich. Sensors detect approaching animals and activate a sign warning motorists.
If the $1-million experiment proves successful, it could provide Colorado with a new method of managing wildlife on roads without cutting off deer and elk from their migratory patterns. For decades, states have used fences to dissuade wild animals from entering roads. Such measures -- as well as underpasses and overpasses -- have proved effective, said Marcel Huijser, research ecologist for the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University in Bozeman.
Over the last 15 years, some states have experimented with other ways to warn motorists of crossing animals, which can weigh hundreds of pounds and total a car.
The world's most comprehensive study of mammals in the wild reveals that at least a quarter of species risk extinction. A staggering 79 percent of apes and monkeys in regions of Asia, for instance, face such danger. But while this study may be alarming, it need not come across like an alarmist.
True, hundreds of mammal species could disappear "within our lifetime," according to Julia Marton-Lefèvre, director general of the Geneva-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which last week released a study of 5,487 species identified since 1500.
In the intervening centuries, 76 mammal species have become extinct, according to IUCN estimates. But the stepped-up pace of habitat loss (through human settlement, logging, and agriculture) – plus overhunting, overfishing, and pollution – are accelerating the decline among a swath of species, from hippos to bears to tapirs. Regions of Asia, Africa, and South America are especially affected.
Complicating the picture are the unknown effects of climate change on land and ocean habitat. Will species adapt? Or will global warming simply prove too much for some?
And yet, extinction is not inevitable. At least 5 percent of the IUCN's currently "threatened" species now have stable or rising populations – the result of conservation efforts. African elephants are rebounding, for instance. In the United States, the black-footed ferret has become a poster animal for successful intervention and cooperation between government and scientists.
On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court heard a dispute between a group of conservationists and the Navy over sonar exercises that scientists say are killing and injuring whales. What isn’t often mentioned in the debate is how the burning of fossil fuels could be making the problem worse.
It’s not mentioned because the discovery of the connection was published only last week. Scientists have long known that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes ocean acidification, and they have also known that the amount of sound that can be absorbed by seawater partly depends on the water’s pH. But nobody thought to combine these two phenomena until ocean chemists Peter Brewer, Keith Hester, and their colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute came along.
Their paper, “Unanticipated consequences of ocean acidification: A noisier ocean at lower pH,” published last week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that fossil fuels are turning up the ocean’s volume. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the overall pH of the world’s oceans has dropped by about 0.1 units, with more of the changes concentrated closer to the poles. The authors found that sound absorption has decreased by 15 percent in parts of the North Atlantic and by 10 percent throughout the Atlantic and Pacific
A federal judge on Monday overturned a decision that removed the grey wolf from the endangered species list in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.
The ruling immediately halts the practice of killing wolves that threaten livestock and pets in the three states.
Forty-five wolves have been killed in Wisconsin this year, either by government personnel, at the request of landowners, or by landowners themselves, a state official said.
The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by environmental groups, including the Humane Society of the United States. District judge Paul Friedman in Washington, DC, said the US Fish and Wildlife Service could not remove wolves from the endangered species list in the Great Lakes region while wolves remained endangered in other parts of the country.
In July, a federal judge in Montana issued an injunction in the Rocky Mountain region after states opened a hunting season on wolves.
With the wolf population sufficiently recovered in Wisconsin, the state's Department of Natural Resources had supported the lifting of protections.
Loose regulation, now blamed for ills ranging from the U.S. financial crisis to imports of tainted Chinese goods, is drawing increasing fire from opponents of the Bush administration's environment program.
In the final months of President George W. Bush's two terms in office, criticism about the use of regulation instead of legislation to craft environmental policy has grown louder.
That is amplified by the campaign for the U.S. presidential election on November 4, with both Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama staking out environmental positions at odds with the current administration.
The environment is important to U.S. voters but ranks far below their top concern, the economy and jobs, according to a sampling on PollingReport.com.
A CNN poll in July found 66 percent said the environment was important or very important in choosing a president, compared with 93 percent who said the same about the economy.
On a broad range of environmental issues -- climate-warming carbon emissions, protecting endangered species, clean air and water preservation, the cleanup of toxic pollution -- opponents in and out of government have taken aim at the White House for failing to tighten some rules and loosening others.