The Environment

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  Obama Environmental TeamDecember 23, 2008 20:10 President-elect Barack Obama's new "green dream team" is committed to battling climate change and ready to push for big policy reforms, in stark contrast with the Bush administration, environmental advocates said on Monday.

"If this team can't advance strong national policy on global warming, then no one can," said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, referring to Obama's picks for the top energy and environment jobs in his administration, which takes office on Jan. 20.

"This caliber of scientists in any administration would be a major headline," Knobloch said by telephone on Monday. "But in contrast to the eight years of the Bush administration, where political appointees ran roughshod over science at a terrible cost to the truth, they stand out even more."

Last week, Obama picked a Nobel physics laureate, Stephen Chu, to head the Energy Department; former environmental lawyer and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar as Interior secretary; former New Jersey environment chief Lisa Jackson to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Nancy Sutley, deputy mayor of Los Angeles, to run the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The president-elect tapped Carol Browner, who headed the Clinton administration's EPA, to take a new White House position coordinating policy on energy, environment and climate change. For White House science adviser, Obama chose John Holdren, a Harvard University expert on climate change.

For the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which deals with weather and climate among other matters, Obama named Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist who has been sharply critical of that agency for allowing overfishing.
  Lawsuit Challenges 11Th Hour Cuts In Endangered Species ProtectionsDecember 17, 2008 21:09 Regulations announced by Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne last week that would exempt many federal activities, including those that generate greenhouse gases, from review under the Endangered Species Act were published in the Federal Register Tuesday.
But the regulations are being challenged in court by three conservation groups - the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and Defenders of Wildlife, who filed suit in federal court for the Northern District of California the day the regulations were announced, December 11.

Unless overturned in court, the regulations will take effect on January 11, nine days before President-elect Barack Obama is inaugurated and the presidency of George W. Bush comes to a close.

"These regulations undermine fundamental protections for the nation's endangered species," said Noah Greenwald with the Center for Biological Diversity. "We hope an Obama administration or Congress will act quickly to undo this 11th hour attempt to weaken our most important law for protecting wildlife."

The lawsuit argues that the regulations violate the Endangered Species Act and did not go through the required public review process. The regulations, first proposed on August 11, were rushed by the Bush administration through an abbreviated process in which more than 300,000 comments from the public were reviewed in three weeks, and environmental impacts were analyzed in a brief environmental assessment, rather than a fuller environmental impact statement.

"This is a clear example of a lame duck administration ramming through weakened regulations that are opposed by Congress and the public," Greenwald said. "When the survival of species hangs in the balance, public policy should not be rushed."

Under current regulations, federal agencies must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if the agencies permit, fund, or otherwise carry out actions that "may affect" endangered species, or if the Service has already determined those actions adversely affect endangered species.

Under the new regulations, federal agencies will themselves determine whether their actions are likely to adversely affect endangered species. That finding would determine whether the agency must consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Announcing the final regulations, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said, "With the regulations finalized today, federal agencies must still follow all existing consultation procedures, except in specific and limited instances where an action is not anticipated to adversely impact any member of a listed species."
  Endangered Species Decisions TaintedDecember 15, 2008 22:07 A high-ranking Interior Department official tainted nearly every decision made on the protection of endangered species over five years, a new inspector general report finds, concluding she exerted improper political interference on many more rulings than previously thought.
Julie MacDonald, a former deputy assistant secretary overseeing the Fish and Wildlife Service, did pervasive harm to the department's morale and integrity and may have risked the well-being of species with her agenda, Interior Inspector General Earl Devaney said in his report out Monday.
The Interior Department last year reversed seven rulings that denied endangered species increased protection, after an investigation found that MacDonald had applied political pressure in those cases. The new report looked at nearly two dozen other endangered species decisions not examined in the earlier report. It found MacDonald directly interfered with at least 13 decisions and indirectly affected at least two more.
MacDonald, a civil engineer with no formal training in natural sciences, resigned in May 2007. Department employees reported that they used her name as a verb — encountering political interference from senior managers was called "getting MacDonalded."
Devaney said "MacDonald's zeal to advance her agenda has caused considerable harm to the integrity of the ESA program and to the morale and reputation" of the Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as potential harm to animals under the Endangered Species Act.
"Her heavy-handedness has cast doubt on nearly every ESA decision issued during her tenure," from 2002 until 2007, the report said. MacDonald was deputy assistant secretary from 2004 to 2007 and a senior adviser in the department for two years before that.
MacDonald did not return telephone messages left for her in Washington and California on Monday. In a letter to Devaney refusing to be interviewed for his second report, she said that he showed "breathtaking arrogance" in conducting his previous investigation.
She resigned weeks after the report by Devaney last year found that she broke federal rules and should face punishment for leaking information about endangered species to private groups. That report also said MacDonald censored science and mistreated staff.
The new investigation reaffirmed those findings and said MacDonald's influence was even more far-reaching. It also faulted her boss, former Assistant Secretary Craig Manson, as well as several other high-ranking Interior officials, including Randal Bowman, a special assistant to Manson, and Thomas Graf, a department lawyer.
  US Greenhouse Emissions UpDecember 03, 2008 15:48 The Bush administration today lost one of its main talking points for defending its approach of relying on voluntary measures to address climate change. The government’s energy statistics agency is reporting that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased 1.4 percent in 2007 — meaning the slight decrease recorded the prior year was a mere blip on the nation’s current pathway toward increasing its fossil fuel burden on the atmosphere.

Last year, President Bush touted a 1.3 percent decrease in U.S. carbon emissions in 2006 — a year when the economy grew by 2.9 percent — as proof that “a strong and growing economy can deliver both a better life for its people and a cleaner environment at the same time.” When asked recently about the administration’s record on climate change, the White House Council on Environmental Quality sent over a brief summary that cited the 2006 emissions drop as proof of “real progress.”

But in 2007, that seeming progress was more than erased, as the United States released 106.7 million more metric tons of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases than it did the previous year, raising the total to a record 7,282.4 million metric tons, according to the annual inventory released today by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Greenhouse gases did decline twice during the Bush administration, in 2001 — associated with the economic slowdown that year — and in 2006, the second-warmest year on record in the United States, with a corresponding decline in energy use to heat homes. But the overall trend was up during President Bush’s tenure, with emissions rising nearly 3 percent from 2000 to 2007.

From 1990, the base year used by the countries that have agreed to the Kyoto protocol to limit greenhouse gases, U.S. emissions have increased nearly 1 percent per year for a total increase of 16.7 percent. In contrast, the latest United Nations figures show the European Community has reduced its emissions 2.2 percent from 1990 to 2006.