Tuesday, December 16, 2008

11th Hour Environmental Mischief

Eleventh hour environmental mischief

The Bush administration is quickly tinkering with environmental rules that would not stand scrutiny outside of this busy period of presidential transition.

Seattle Times editorial

The Bush administration is racing the calendar, busy salting federal regulations with changes. Most would be unlikely to survive scrutiny outside of the frenzied period when one presidency ends and another begins.

One example goes after the Endangered Species Act, and another mugs national parks in Utah in the name of oil and gas leases.

Last week, the Interior Department finalized rules that blithely allow government agencies to decide if one of their projects are a threat to an endangered species.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne described the change as a "clarification," of Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. Instead of consulting independent reaction from the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to assess consequences, it would be up to an agency's own self-serving discretion.

Hard-earned experience has taught the environmental community this is a bogus approach, and they filed suit in federal court to challenge changes they view as illegal.

The Interior Department is also trying to change language that covers the breadth of a designation of endangered status. In the past, listing bald eagles as endangered meant all bald eagles were covered. The administration wants to narrow the definition by qualifying and limiting descriptions of a species' range and territory.

Another last-minute flurry of activity is under way with the Bureau of Land Management, which wants to open 51,000 acres of oil and gas leases near Arches, Dinosaur and Canyonlands national parks.

Environmentalists are upset, appropriately so, and so is the National Park Service, which sounds like it was blindsided by the sales. They are none too keen about the prospects of drilling trashing up treasured and protected views and vistas.

The urgency of the leasing activity is suspect. Even as "drill, baby, drill" echoed in the presidential campaign, most leases on public land go unused.

Congress and President-elect Barack Obama need to keep a running tally of this bureaucratic mischief. These rules have sticky tenacity, so what the new administration cannot undo, it falls to lawmakers to make amends by statute.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company


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