The Bush administration has just proposed a massive weakening of the Endangered Species Act.
For the past 35 years, scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service assessed whether the actions of other federal agencies would harm threatened and endangered species. The Bush administration’s lawyers have decided to remove that requirement and instead essentially let agencies decide for themselves if their highway, dam, mining, drilling or other construction project would harm wildlife. However, since the missions of these other agencies are not to protect wildlife—indeed, sometimes their missions are in direct opposition to the protection of wildlife and wild lands—they should not be allowed to make that decision alone.
The Bureau of Land Management boasts that it is one of the top revenue-generating agencies in the federal government—with its oil and gas leasing activities generating billions. The Bureau of Reclamation states that it is best known for the dams, power plants and canals that it has built. The Army Corps of Engineers provides “engineering services and capabilities” from peace to war operations.
These are the agencies that may get to decide if their activities will harm species—really? This is like giving the fox the lone key to the hen house. These agencies will have much greater freedom to mine, log and destroy our public lands.
To add insult to injury, the Bush administration’s new guidelines also forbid federal agencies from assessing the impact that endangered species may suffer from actions that increase global warming threats. This despite the fact that endangered species are some of the most likely ones to be affected by our warming climate.
The Bush administration’s proposed rules are an assault on the heart of the Endangered Species Act—the federal government’s responsibility to do no harm to endangered species. The federal government has an obligation to future generations to be good stewards and protect endangered species and the places they call home, especially the habitat that occurs on land owned in common by all Americans.
Why should you care? Because endangered species collectively serve as a canary in the coal mine for all of us. We breathe the same air, and we drink the same water as they do. When we’re protecting wildlife and their wild lands, we’re actually protecting you and me and our very basic needs for survival.