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A New Run at Endangered Species

Congressional Republicans, led by former congressman Richard Pombo, tried in vain for years to gut the Endangered Species Act. They were thwarted largely because the law is so popular with the public.

Now the Bush crowd is trying to do by fiat what it couldn't accomplish in the legislative arena: rewrite the rules.

Specifically, a draft rule change appeared in early August that would lift the requirement that agencies like the Corps of Engineers or the Environmental Protection Agency consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to see if projects the former agencies are considering giving their approval to might harm protected species.

The administration says the agencies can tell for themselves and needn't bother FWS and NMFS.

Well no.

Within days, at least two situations have arisen that put the lie to that assertion.

In the Northwest, a review by NMFS found that three common pesticides are seriously harming salmon—pesticides that the EPA thinks are just fine. And in the Southwest, the Fish and Wildlife Service has said that mercury emissions from a proposed coal plant would harm up to a half-dozen protected species. EPA has already granted the plant a permit, not waiting for the FWS to speak.

The Endangered Species Act, in other words, is working as intended. The administration's latest ploy is just one of any number of attempts to do violence to our environmental laws. Hardly news, but distressing anyway.