White House removes protections for endangered species
With just over a month remaining in office, the Bush administration loosened federal protection of plant and animal species threatened with extinction.
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“This administration has rejected anything with a whiff of science – so before sulking out the back door, they are going after rules that require Fish and Wildlife Service scientists to prevent harm to our last wild animals and places. Despite today’s feel-good statements, we remain convinced that these changes are illegal. We will look at the final language when it is published tomorrow, but I think we will see them in court.”
"This administration’s disdain for wildlife and the environment has never been more clear than it is today," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife and former director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. "For 35 years, the Endangered Species Act has helped save and recover imperiled wildlife on the brink of extinction. Now, with this administration facing its last days, they are doing everything they can to cement their anti-environmental legacy before the Obama administration takes office."
Obama says that he intends to reverse the rule change, along with other "midnight rules" made in the waning days of the Bush presidency. But that may be easier said than done.
ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news organization, notes that while last-minute rules that have not yet taken effect can be quickly reversed by Obama's appointees or by executive order, rules that are in force when he takes office cannot:
Rescinding a rule would require the new administration to restart the rulemaking process, which can take years and prompt legal challenges. Another strategy that has been talked about lately – getting Congress to disapprove the rules through the Congressional Review Act – carries political risks and has been used only once before.
The new endangered species rule takes effect nine days before Obama's inauguration.
There is still a chance that the rule could be quickly reversed, however. USA Today reports that Rep. Nick Rahall (D) of West Virginia, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, says that he will likely invoke the Congressional Review Act, a rarely used law that gives Congress 60 days to review and overrule regulations issued by government agencies.