Administration Moves to Restore Endangered Species Act

Spectacled Eider. Photo: USFWS
Spectacled Eider. Photo: USFWS

At a celebration in March honoring the 160th anniversary of the creation of the Department of the Interior, President Obama announced his intention to reverse two rules passed in the last days of the previous administration, and to restore the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to its original full strength. Congressional language added to the recently passed FY 09 omnibus spending bill would give the Administration the ability to withdraw the rules within 60 days without having to go through the normal lengthy regulatory process requiring a public comment period. An effort mounted by Senator Murkowski and Senator Begich of Alaska to remove this provision from the bill failed by a vote of 42-52.

 

One of the two rules at issue removed the long-standing requirement under Section 7 of the ESA for federal agencies to consult with experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service in cases where their actions may impact endangered species. Instead, it permitted each agency to decide on its own whether or not to consult. The second rule weakened ESA protections that were afforded to the polar bear when the species was listed as threatened last year. The rule specifically stated that oil and gas development can proceed in polar bear habitat without review of how these activities may impact the species. The rule also failed to take into account the effect of climate change, which is causing the loss of sea ice and reducing essential habitat that threatens the survival of not only the polar bear but also the Kittlitz’s Murrelet. Both rules had drawn fire from conservation and environmental groups across the country.

 

“We are delighted that both Congress and the President have taken steps to reverse the harmful rules and restore the Endangered Species Act to its intended strength,” said Darin Schroeder, Vice President for Conservation Advocacy at American Bird Conservancy. “The consultation process is one of the cornerstones of the ESA, and one of the key checks and balances that ensures protection for the 90 birds and 1,263 other animals and plants it covers. We urge Secretary Salazar to use the tools he has been given and withdraw both rules immediately.”