The Bush ESA rule, finalized with today's publication in the federal register, cuts federal wildlife scientists out of decisions affecting wildlife when federal projects are being approved. The Bush rule allows federal agencies involved with projects such as new highways, bridges, dams and airports to ignore the views of wildlife experts and instead internally determine the threat level posed to imperiled wildlife. These agencies not only lack the expertise to make wildlife decisions, but often they have a built-in conflict of interest.
In a 2005, court ruling, Earthjustice successfully challenged a similar proposal to weaken the Endangered Species Act. That proposal authorized the EPA to exclude fish biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service from decisions regarding the harm pesticides pose to federally protected salmon runs. A federal district court ruled this was a clear violation of the Endangered Species Act.
"We've gone to court over this issue before, we're doing so now and we'll continue to do so until the proper protections are in place for wildlife in peril," said Janette Brimmer, attorney for Earthjustice. "Requiring compliance with the Endangered Species Act only part of the time is not what was intended when Congress originally passed the ESA. These new set of rules are not in compliance with the original law."
"The Endangered Species Act is the cornerstone of our country's environmental laws and the rule changes in question run roughshod over its basic mandate," said Andrew Wetzler, director of NRDC's Endangered Species Program.
"When it comes to protecting wildlife, we should listen to the scientists who spend their lives studying these animals. If they say global warming is the biggest threat to polar bears, then we should do what it takes to eliminate that threat," said Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope.
"This last ditch effort to gut the nation's strongest wildlife-protection law is patently illegal, and will not succeed," said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel of animal protection litigation and research for The Humane Society of the United States. "The party is over for these kinds of conservation rollbacks, and it's time to start talking about strengthening our commitments to the protection of endangered species."
"This new rule would allow the very same federal water agencies who have destroyed many of our salmon runs through years of mismanagement to run for cover and escape their responsibility," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA). "The habitat protections and water reforms salmon desperately need to survive could be impossible under this new rule. This could be the death knell for a billion dollars salmon fishery already hard pressed to survive."
The suit was filed in the Northern District of California. Earthjustice is representing the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club, Conservation Northwest, The Humane Society of the United States, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), and the Institute for Fisheries Resources. NRDC will also be co-counsel with Earthjustice.
Read the complaint (PDF)
Listen to Earthjustice Vice President for Policy & Legislation Marty Hayden discuss the attempt to weaken the Endangered Species Act and other last-minute Bush administration regulations on KQED-FM's "Forum" with Michael Krasny:
Janette Brimmer, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 29
Josh Mogerman, NRDC, (312) 780-7424
Glen H. Spain, PCFFA, IFR, (541) 689-2000