Proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act threaten people too

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is well known for protecting plants and animals. Yet as it defends wildlife and habitat from global warming it also helps humans. The ESA helps protect critical natural functions, including cleaning air and water, that directly impact human communities, not to mention recreational opportunities that support many local economies.

In mid-August the Bush Administration proposed dangerous changes that would undermine the act's protective powers.

Under the guise of enhancing “interagency cooperation” through “narrow” regulatory changes, the Administration’s adjustments to the ESA will weaken important safeguards for all species. Government agencies will longer need to seek independent scientific review for projects that could affect endangered plants or animals.

Current regulations require agencies planning road construction or other projects that could affect endangered species to consult with ecological experts and submit project plans to an independent review board with Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The proposed rule creates a shortcut that would essentially allow agencies, who have limited ecological expertise and often a stake in moving projects forward, to decide if those projects are safe for threatened and endangered species.

The new rule would prevent thorough analysis of a project’s global warming impacts by placing the issue beyond the scope of these environmental reviews. The impacts on threatened and endangered species from a project’s greenhouse gas emissions would simply not be evaluated.

The Wilderness Society submitted formal comments to the government protesting the proposal in September. We highlighted key issues, including:

  • The Administration seeks to redefine key terms within the ESA in ways that will prevent thorough analysis of projects’ global warming impacts.
  • The Administration wants to make it easier for federal agencies to avoid consultation with government scientific experts.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Commerce and Interior Departments are intent on undermining the Endangered Species Act in the waning days of the Bush Administration. The potential impacts of global warming on endangered and threatened species have not been assessed. These rule changes seem intent on keeping it that way - to the detriment of wildlife and human health.