Obama Neuters Bush Rule on Endangered Species
by Matthew Madia
Mar 4, 2009
Yesterday, President Barack Obama issued a memo regarding a Bush-era regulation that weakened the Endangered Species Act. The rule was one of Bush’s many midnight regulations; it went into effect Jan. 15, less than a week before Bush left office.
Obama’s memo asks the departments of Interior and Commerce (who published the regulation jointly) to review the regulation and “determine whether to undertake new rulemaking procedures.” Those “new rulemaking procedures” are likely to lead to a complete revocation of the rule.
More importantly, Obama’s memo instructs agencies to revert to the pre-Bush-rule method of making determinations about species habitats.
Bush’s rule allows agencies to bypass expert scientific review for development projects. So, federal land-use managers could approve projects like infrastructure creation, minerals extraction, or logging without consulting habitat managers and biological health experts responsible for species protection. Previously, consultation had been required. Now, consultation is at the discretion of the agencies that make decisions on development.
In the memo, Obama says that, until review of the regulation is complete, “I request the heads of all agencies to exercise their discretion, under the new regulation, to follow the prior longstanding consultation and concurrence practices.”
Those practices had been longstanding because they are required by the Endangered Species Act. The act requires project managers to request from Interior "information whether any species which is listed or proposed to be listed may be present in the area" where development will occur.
The implication of Obama’s memo is that the regulation is null and void so long as he is sheriff in town. But the rule still needs to be reversed in order to prevent future administrations from jeopardizing endangered species. Moreover, another provision in the Bush rule prohibits climate change from being considered as a factor in species protection decisions. Obama’s memo does not address the climate change issue.
The House has also taken aim at the endangered species rule. Passage of that legislation seems far less urgent in light of Obama’s memo.back to Blog