Endangered Species Act cheats extinction

President Obama reverses a Bush administration midnight-rule.

Published March 3, 2009 11:30PM (EST)

Speaking at the Department of the Interior on Tuesday, President Obama announced that the he'd rescinded a Bush-era rule that significantly weakened the Endangered Species Act. The President said that he'd signed a memorandum rolling back the Bush rule to "help restore the scientific process to its rightful place at the heart of the endangered species act." He added that it's a "false choice" to assume that Americans must chose between economic growth and protecting the environment.

Of all the Bush administration's egregious sins against the environment, one of the most truly outrageous was neutering the Endangered Species Act in December of 2008 by implementing a policy of "self-consultation" for federal agencies. In essence, the Bush administration moved to allow the likes of the Department of Transportation to decide for itself if a new project, such as a highway, could potentially harm imperiled critters -- a clear conflict of interest. As the act was originally written, such projects can only move forward after consultation with scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Today's announcement thrilled advocates for creatures great and small. "Much needed change is becoming reality at the Interior Department," said Betsy Loyless, senior vice president for the National Audubon Society. "For years, the previous administration undermined science and stoked a culture of corruption at Interior. President Obama today helped restore sound science and good judgment with the stroke of a pen."

Did you hear that, sea otters? Kieran Suckling, executive director for the Center for Biological Diversity, crowed: "Obama has restored independent, scientific oversight to the heart of the Endangered Species Act. Obama's move today puts expert scientists back in the driver's seat for management of the nation's endangered species."

Are you listening, salt marsh harvest mouse? Andrew Wetzler, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Endangered Species Program said: "Reversing the Bush administration's midnight action will restore protections for our last wild places and species. Undoing the last administration's damage to the Endangered Species Act will enable scientists to work with federal agencies and ensure that new projects do not harm threatened wildlife."

No ocelots were available for comment.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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