Tuesday, 18 June 2024

Attorney general sues over rules undermining Endangered Species Act

SAN FRANCISCO – On Tuesday California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. filed suit in federal court to block an “audacious attempt” by the Bush Administration to gut provisions in the Endangered Species Act mandating scientific review of federal agency decisions that may threaten endangered species and their habitat.


“The Bush Administration is seeking to gut the Endangered Species Act on its way out the door,” Attorney General Brown said. “This is an audacious attempt to circumvent a time-tested statute that for 35 years has required scientific review of proposed federal agency decisions that affect wildlife.”


The new regulations, initially proposed by the Departments of the Interior and Commerce in August 2008 and made final on Dec. 16, largely eliminate a requirement in the Endangered Species Act that mandates scientific review of federal agency decisions that might affect endangered and threatened species and their habitats.


The changes allow federal agencies to undertake or permit mining, logging, and other commercial activities on federal land and other areas without obtaining review or comment from federal wildlife biologists on the environmental effects of such activities.


The new regulations are the most significant changes to the Endangered Species Act and its implementing regulations in 20 years.


Now that these regulations have been adopted, many decisions on whether to permit commercial activities on protected land will be made at the discretion of federal agency project proponents, according to Brown's office. These agencies generally lack adequate biological expertise and have incentives to conclude that their projects will not have adverse affects on endangered and threatened species and their habitat.


The changes also eliminate the requirement to consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on species and ecosystems from proposed federal projects. Federal agencies now no longer need to consider the possible adverse impacts on species like the polar bear from commercial projects that require federal approval or funding such as highway construction and coal-fired power plants.


The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that the Bush Administration:


• Violated the Endangered Species Act by adopting regulations that are inconsistent with that statute;

• Violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider the environmental ramifications of the proposed new regulations; and

• Violated the Administrative Procedures Act by not adequately considering public comments submitted by the Attorney General and numerous other organizations and concerned citizens.


The Attorney General’s lawsuit follows three similar lawsuits challenging the regulations filed earlier by environmental groups.


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