Saturday, May 02, 2009

Good news for a change, part three

In December, in an 11th hour move, the Shrub gang issued finalized regulations eliminating the "Section 7 consultation" required for activities that might harm endangered or threatened species.

The consultation requirement - in effect for more than 20 years - meant that federal agencies had to get the go-ahead from wildlife experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) before issuing permits for such potentially-harmful activities. The change made n December made the consultations voluntary instead of required, something which the Bush cabal claimed was just a minor shift in policy.

Of course it wasn't, as it took judgments about the effect of the activities on listed species out of the hands of those whose job it is to make those judgments (and who have the expertise to do it) and essentially put them in the hands of those whose primary purpose in life seems to be finding ways to approve whatever development plans - particularly oil and gas development plans - corporate America comes up with.

Fortunately, the change did not last long. In March, Obama put a hold on the new regulations pending a review. On Tuesday, they were rescinded.
"By rolling back this 11th hour regulation, we are ensuring that threatened and endangered species continue to receive the full protection of the law," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, whose department oversees Fish and Wildlife.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, whose department oversees NOAA, added that "our decision affirms the administration’s commitment to using sound science to promote conservation and protect the environment."
Salazar also made reference to science, saying it "must serve as the foundation for decisions we make."

It is a change, I must admit, and a pleasant one, to see science presented as something central to decision-making rather than something to be ignored or even trashed.

Another test, another measure, is coming up soon:
Polar bears, highly dependent on Arctic sea ice, were listed last year as threatened after federal biologists determined they were especially vulnerable to the rapidly warming climate in the far north.

A decision on a separate special Bush administration rule limiting federal polar bear protections is due by May 10, according to Bruce Woods, spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska.
Rescinding that rule, which was issued for the political purpose of downplaying the effects of global warming (since warming was a main reason why the bears were protected), would be a sign that the administration is at least prepared to take global warming seriously not merely as a hypothetical threat but as a real threat having real effects in today's world. That obviously is not enough, but it's a better place to start than we've had.

For the moment, though, score one for the Big O. No, not that Big O. No, not that one, either. The White House Big O.

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