There's mixed news today on the environmental front. On one hand, the Bush administration has pulled back a proposal that would weaken air quality rules for coal-fired power plants. But on the other it has moved forward with a rule to weaken the Endangered Species Act.
The good news came when Environmental Protection Agency officials decided not to push through a rule that would have allowed coal-fired power plants and other facilities seeking to locate near national parks and wilderness areas to circumvent pollution limits established by Congress to protect these areas. If this rule had been finalized, there could have been more power plants and factories emitting more air pollution into national park airsheds.
"This is a victory for our national parks, and the millions of Americans who visit them and live near them," says Mark Wenzler, who directs the Clean Air and Climate Programs for the National Parks Conservation Association. "The administration wisely heeded the concerns raised by EPA scientists, the Park Service, Congress, and tens of thousands of Americans, and will not permit more pollution to damage wildlife, mar scenic views or endanger visitors to our national parks and wilderness areas."
As for the ESA, well, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne today finalized regulations that would exempt thousands of federal activities, including those that generate greenhouse gases, from review under the act.
At issue are so-called "Section 7" consultations with endangered species experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Those consultations currently are required for any federal agency where their actions might affect endangered species, even if no negative impacts are likely.
The new rule proposed by the Bush administration would allow agencies to determine on their own when their actions will have no effect on endangered species.
“The regulations that were finalized today undermine fundamental protections for the nation’s endangered species,” said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We hope an Obama administration or Congress will act quickly to undo this 11th-hour attempt to weaken our most important law for protecting wildlife.”
Over at the Natural Resources Defense Council, Andrew Wetzler, who directs that organization's Endangered Species Program, had this to say:
“This administration has rejected anything with a whiff of science---so before sulking out the back door, they are going after rules that require Fish and Wildlife Service scientists to prevent harm to our last wild animals and places," he said. "Despite today’s feel-good statements, we remain convinced that these changes are illegal. We will look at the final language when it is published tomorrow, but I think we will see them in court.”
And at the American Bird Conservancy, Mike Parr, the group's vice president, said this:
"Consultation with experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service is one of the cornerstones of the Endangered Species Act. This system of checks and balances helps ensure that the 90 birds and 1,263 other animals and plants that are on the Endangered Species List are adequately considered and protected by federal government actions.”