SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – California’s Attorney General went into Federal Court Tuesday in an effort to stop a midnight regulation by the Bush Administration that would exempt federal agencies from a key requirement of the Endangered Species Act, saying the move in the waning days of Bush’s presidency usurps the power of Congress and is the most significant change to the act in 20 years.
“The Bush Administration is unlawfully trying to make major substantive and procedural revisions to the statute through the regulatory process. This is not something executive agencies are authorized to do. Only Congress can amend the statute” says Abraham Arredondo, a lawyer for the California Attorney General’s Office.
The ESA mandated that federal agencies seek independent reviews from scientists on projects that might negatively affect endangered or threatened species.
The Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce, however, proposed to eliminate this provision and on December 16th it was removed.
Federal agencies now decide for themselves whether mining, logging, and other projects will negatively affect threatened or endangered species. Attorney General Edmund Brown claims these agencies generally lack biological expertise and that they usually have incentive to conclude their projects won’t hurt listed species.
Also, the Act no longer mandates that the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on listed species be considered in federal projects. Federal agencies no longer need to consider potential negative affects on species like the polar bear when approving coal-burning power plants or projects which contribute to greenhouse gasses.
Of the 1,327 plant and animal species on the national endangered and threatened species list, 310 of them are in California. The federal government owns millions of acres of land in California in the form of military bases, public lands, and federal water projects, among other things.
California has its own list of endangered species and the federal government must still follow the California Endangered Species Act when operating on California land.
The lawsuit draws attention to the increasing stagnancy of the federal Endangered Species Act. Robert Wayne, a Biology professor at UCLA, explained that it is now very difficult to add species to the federal endangered species list, which results in many species becoming extinct while still being considered for listing.
In 2004, the Washington Post wrote an article detailing the influence of the Bush administration on the ESA. It reported that 9.5 species a year were added to the endangered list under President Bush, compared with 65 a year under President Bill Clinton and 59 a year under President George H.W. Bush. The Paper also reported that the administration recalculated the economic costs of protecting critical habitats and also noted increased difficulty in listing new species.
The Federal ESA understands endangered species to be in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Threatened species are animals and plants likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of their ranges.
Megan Acevedo is the Deputy Attorney General representing California.