November 26, 2008

more "Bush hates the environment" rhetoric

By more "Bush hates the environment" rhetoric

NRDC's Josh Mogerman has an idea for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Obama administration. "Under current leadership, the FWS has been directed towards an all-out assault on the ESA and its scientific focus," so the solution according to Mogerman consists of three words:

[L]et’s just change the tone. Send the simple message, “Wildlife is OK.”

That one little change is a balance tipper. It allows a return to decisions based on science instead of politics. They are biologists. Naturalists. Conservationists. People who care about nature. They want to protect wildlife, not wage war on it.

That change allows FWS to start grappling with the issues that are going to be central to their work: investigate climate change impacts already being felt by our wild life and wild places, undoing some of the crazy rule changes that the administration is foisting on us as they sulk out the back door, drafting the recovery plans that are central to endangered species' population growth, revisit the process for listing endangered species and critical habitat, and increase ESA funding (because goodness knows there will be a lot going on in that arena to get caught up after the last 8 years).

Since a change in tone is apparently needed, the message at FWS under the Bush administration must have been "wildlife is not ok." That's kind of a strange way of putting things when one takes a closer look at some of the initiatives undertaken by Bush's FWS in the past eight years. Consider for example, Bush's Cooperative Conservation efforts. More recently, the Fish and Wildlife Service under Bush has received praise from the American Bird Conservancy for an extremely broad approach to designating critical habitat, informed managers of a whitewater park for kayakers that their project may harm Lahontan cutthroat trout despite "the project's designers [having] bent over backwards to address concerns expressed by federal and state regulators," and has questioned the ability of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve a proposed natural gas pipeline. "How will FERC estimate species and habitat occurrences, and subsequently estimate project effects, for species and habitats that may be found on unsurveyed lands?" asked Fish and Wildlife Service Supervisor Paul Henson — an odd question for an official working under an administration that supposedly hates the environment.

The point is that despite what you find on their websites and read in their news releases, FWS under Bush has done much that is agreeable to environmental organizations. The reality is that you don't hear about these favorable decisions because they contradict the notion that the Bush administration has had an "absolute tone-deaf response to issues around the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the last eight years." Rather than undermine the idea that there is an all-out assault on the environment and the Endangered Species Act, groups such as NRDC choose to overdramatize the decisions that don't go their way.

To get back to Mogerman's desire that FWS officials grapple with the issues that are central to their work (as if they weren't doing that already), Mogerman believes that FWS should "investigate climate change impacts already being felt by our wild life and wild places," presumably under the ESA.  How these investigations should take place and what exactly should be done after they are complete is left unsaid.  Also not mentioned is that any attempt to regulate climate change via the ESA would be a cumbersome ordeal and would impose real costs on society.

In the end, Mogerman's suggestions would amount to a significant expansion of regulatory authority under the guiding principle that "Wildlife is OK."  Perhaps a proper response is "Yes, but what about people?"

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