March 30, 2007
In This Issue
The Bush administration’s internal discussions of regulatory changes to the Endangered Species Act included an across-the-board overhaul that would have scaled back the government’s power to list species or prevent disruptive activities in their habitat, according to a draft proposal circulated March 27 by the Center for Biological Diversity.
Rather than hone in on a particular regulation, the proposal calls for rewriting the law’s definitions of habitat, of what it means to place a species in “jeopardy,” of when agencies have to consult on the possible effects of their actions, and calls for giving greater power to states. Interior officials said the document does not necessarily reflect the agency’s current work on the law.
Administration officials have been silent on Interior’s efforts to overhaul the regulations, repeatedly saying they were considering suggestions from last summer’s “cooperative conservation listening sessions,” but insisting the process was just beginning. But the proposals released March 27 included 114 pages of detailed regulatory language that had apparently circulated in the department for the past eight months.
A high-ranking Interior Department official systematically pressured career employees into changing scientific documents and findings related to Endangered Species Act listings, Interior’s Inspector General said in a report released March 28.
Julie MacDonald, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, used her post to intervene in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s work on species listing and critical habitat decisions and sent information to third parties to use in challenging the service in court, Inspector General Earl Devaney reported.
The IG report marks the latest in a series of incidents on a range of environmental issues — from climate change to forests — in which Bush administration political appointees have attempted to censor documents or limit the distribution of scientific information.
In a historic hearing appearance March 21 before two House subcommittees, former Vice President Al Gore urged Congress to immediately freeze U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and reduce them 90 percent by mid-century. Gore called on lawmakers to tax the carbon content of fuels as a way to put the global climate change issue before Americans.
Gore also suggested that the United States push for the next global climate change treaty to begin in 2010, two years before the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol.
By using 2010 as a start point for the next treaty, the next U.S. president could “use his or her political chits” to get the country in an “all-out sprint” to reduce its own emissions.
Congress should also set up a “carbon neutral” federal mortgage company to support “green” homes, ban sales of incandescent light bulbs, and impose a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants built without the technology to capture and sequester carbon dioxide, said Gore.
Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), a key Senate Republican, vowed March 26 to block global climate change legislation if emerging industrial nations do not make similar commitments.
China’s emissions are on track to surpass the United States as early as this year, according to recent media reports, driving the Senate Energy Committee’s ranking member to express concern that a new U.S. program would do little to address global climate change while simultaneously harming the domestic economy.
Domenici plans to hold firm unless he receives a signal from the White House that the president intends to quickly press developing nations into their own emission reduction commitments. Other examples that could win the Senator’s support include a voluntary agreement or international treaties, a Domenici spokesman said.
Congressional attention to allegations of scientific censorship continues with a House Science and Technology Committee hearing on whether the Bush administration has altered or suppressed the work of federal scientists.
But while earlier hearings focused on the work of federal climatologists, the House Science Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee took a broader look at its March 28 hearing. The wider focus is in line with the science panel’s jurisdiction over all federal non-defense research and development activities, Democratic aides said.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) unveiled a policy blueprint on March 27 that would prod the Bush administration toward writing further environmental standards into pending international trade agreements. The future trade agreements would “promote sustainable development” and address global climate change by requiring countries to implement and enforce current multilateral environmental agreements.
Examples of agreements the Democrats would enforce are the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Montreal Protocol, and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, according to a Democratic aide on Ways and Means.
Sources: Energy and Environment Daily; Energy and Environment News PM; Greenwire