Q: How do you make an anti-environmental, EPA-hating Republican care about endangered species?
A: Give him a way to pit that species up against the thing he hates the most: President Obama's climate rule.
Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican and staunch climate denier who heads up the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is suddenly, uncharacteristically concerned about the fate of Florida's endangered manatees. In a letter written with Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) to the EPA Monday, the senator expressed concern that the marine mammals, which depend on the warm water discharged by two coal-fired power plants, may become accidental victims of the climate rule, which could cause those plants to close.
"A regulation that causes designated manatee refuges like Big Bend or Crystal River to shut down or alter their operations would significantly and adversely affect the endangered manatee," the letter reads, referring to the two plants in question. The EPA, it argues, was required under the Endangered Species Act to formally consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service about this risk. Inhofe and Bishop are "astounded" that it failed to do so.
Bishop's efforts to save the manatee began earlier this year, when he confronted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe at a March budget hearing. Ashe, according to the Miami Herald, gave some credence to the idea: he acknowledged that the EPA had not consulted with the FWS, and that “because there is a very direct and obvious impact and relationship between that water discharge and those manatees," it indeed should have happened.
For Bishop, the appeal of a consultation was obvious: it could slow down the finalization and implementation of the rule. Ashe attempted to add that he thought there should be a consultation on the manatees, but “not on the EPA’s overall carbon emissions rule," but Bishop cut him off.
The concern for the manatees are real: they indeed have adapted to the coal plants' run-off. But experts told the Herald that they're working on ways to help the manatees find natural sources of warmth -- after all, as Bob Bonde, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Gainesville, pointed out, “We can’t produce warm water for manatees forever.”
It's more than a little ironic, meanwhile, to hear Inhofe espousing protections for endangered species while simultaneously leading the charge to remove them. His strategy could work: according to the Hill, "federal courts have routinely overturned agency actions" that ignore the part of the law requiring the EPA to consult with the FWS when that action "may affect" endangered species or protected habitats. Let's just not pretend this is really about the manatees.