Bush Administration Decides to Suppress Public Comment on Wildlife Regulations

They never cease to amaze.  The Bush Administration apparently decided sometime last fall that it will no longer accept any public comments on proposed Endangered Species Act regulations by e-mail or fax.  I stumbled on this change when looking at the text of Monday’s proposal by the Administration to gut large sections of Endangered Species Act’s safety net.  That proposal reads:

ADDRESSES: Submit your comments or materials concerning this proposed rule in one of the following ways:

(1) Through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions on the website for submitting comments.

(2) By U.S. mail or hand-delivery to Public Comment Processing, Attention: 1018-AT50, Division of Policy and Directives Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 222, Arlington, VA 22203. We will not accept e-mail or faxes. We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us (see the Public Comments section below for more information).

Now, it is absolutely standard practice for federal agencies to accept comments by electronic mail.  I just take a look at today’s Federal Resister and you’ll notice that the Environmental Protection Agency is accepting public comments via e-mail (see here or here, for example).  But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service isn't.  In fact, it seems the last time they accepted public comments via e-mail on a proposed Endangered Species Act regulation was November 28, 2007 (see here and here).  By December 11, 2007, Fish and Wildlife suddenly stopped accepting any comments via fax or e-mail (see here and here).

Now why would that be?  As I said, up until November of last year the agency regularly accepts e-mail comments.  Accepting comments via e-mail allowed significant number of people to weigh-in on important regulatory actions they might normally not have an ability to participate in.  I suspect it has something to do with the over 600,000 comments the Fish and Wildlife Service received concerning the polar bear listing. 

Regardless of the reason, one thing is clear to me.  The combination of (1) no e-mail comments; (2) a miserly 30-day comment period; and (3) no public hearings signals loud and clear that the Fish and Wildlife Service is not interested in listening to the public—especially about controversial moves like their proposal to fundamentally change the way wildlife is protected under the Endangered Species Act—they are interested in ramming through predetermined results.

UPDATE:  The NRDC Action Fund will be collecting comments on the proposed rule to give to the agency.  If you wish to comment, go here.