once twice below.)
A month before leaving office, the Bush Administration weakened the Endangered Species Act by enacting new guidelines excusing federal agencies, in many cases, from having to consult wildlife professionals before taking potentially harmful actions. Administrative rulemaking laws making it hard to undo regulations like this once they’ve gone into effect – but nothing in the Bush “kill before consulting” rule says federal agencies can’t consult each other, just that they don’t have to consult each other.
Today, President Obama took both immediate and longer-term steps to return to the previous, more consultative rule. First, he instructed federal agencies to continue consulting each other about wildlife impacts as if the Bush rule had never gone into effect. Second, he directed an inquiry into whether the Bush rule should be formally undone (so that a future anti-environmental president would have to start all over again to cut wildlife professionals out of the loop).
The entire Obama memorandum, issued in a press release Tuesday, can be read here. Here's the meat (emphasis added by me):
On December 16, 2008, the Departments of the Interior and Commerce issued a joint regulation that modified these longstanding requirements... This new regulation expands the circumstances in which an agency may determine not to consult with, or obtain the written concurrence of, the FWS [Fish & Wildlife Service] or NMFS [National Marine Fisheries Service] prior to undertaking an action that may affect threatened or endangered species. But under the new regulation, agencies may continue the previous practice of consulting with, and obtaining the written concurrence of, the FWS and NMFS as a matter of discretion.
I hereby request the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce ... to determine whether to undertake new rulemaking procedures with respect to consultative and concurrence processes that will promote the purposes of the ESA.
Until such review is completed, I request the heads of all agencies to exercise their discretion, under the new regulation, to follow the prior longstanding consultation and concurrence practices involving the FWS and NMFS.
So: good science now, and for the next 4-8 years; and hopefully restored guarantees of good science later, even under less humane executives than Obama is. A good day for the earth, and another reminder of why elections matter.
UPDATE #1: Obama also delivered remarks about his support for the Endangered Species Act, and his administration's return to science-based policymaking, in remarks at the Department of the Interior. The quick-and-dirty, insider's "press pool" report of those remarks, and their hearty reception by grateful Department of the Interior employees, can be read here.
UPDATE #2: OK, I didn't know this: Obama's remarks, and his restoration of science to the Endangered Species Act, came on the 160th anniversary of the Department of the Interior. Here are his remarks to Interior employees, as distributed by the White House.
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