SAN FRANCISCO, CA (December 17, 2008) – Environmentalists and commercial fishermen are fighting to protect the Endangered Species Act regulations from last-minute changes by the Bush administration that will dramatically weaken and limit the use of the landmark wildlife protection law, according to legal experts and scientists. The Bush plan has been roundly panned for eliminating science from federal agency decision making and ignoring objections from hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens across the country. In an effort to maintain protection for wildlife, a coalition of groups filed suit today to halt the last-minute rules.
The suit claims that the Bush rule changes are illegal and expose America’s most vulnerable plants and animals to new threats by allowing federal agencies to self-consult about potential project impacts on endangered species. In a major break from typical national environmental policy, no environmental impact statement has been conducted.
Though the changes were announced last week, the final language was not published until Tuesday morning. After reviewing the changes, the groups’ fears were realized regarding the changes. The suit was filed in the Northern District of California. Earthjustice is representing the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club, Conservation Northwest, The Humane Society of the United States, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), and the Institute for Fisheries Resources. NRDC will also be co-counsel with Earthjustice.
“We’ve gone to court over this issue before, we’re doing so now and we’ll continue to do so until the proper protections are in place for wildlife in peril,” said Janette Brimmer, attorney for Earthjustice. “Requiring compliance with the Endangered Species Act only part of the time is not what was intended when Congress originally passed the ESA. These new set of rules are not in compliance with the original law.”
“The Endangered Species Act is the cornerstone of our country’s environmental laws and the rule-changes in question run roughshod over its basic mandate,” said Andrew Wetzler, director of NRDC’s Endangered Species Program. “If the Bush administration thinks that the green groups and the general public will just step aside they are tone-deaf and wrong.”
"When it comes to protecting wildlife, we should listen to the scientists who spend their lives studying these animals. If they say global warming is the biggest threat to polar bears, then we should do what it takes to eliminate that threat," said Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope. "These rules would be a lasting reminder of all of the disdain for science and political trumping of expertise that have characterized the Bush Administration's efforts to dismantle fundamental environmental laws."
“This last ditch effort to gut the nation’s strongest wildlife-protection law is patently illegal, and will not succeed," said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel of animal protection litigation and research for The Humane Society of the United States. "The party is over for these kinds of conservation rollbacks, and it’s time to start talking about strengthening our commitments to the protection of endangered species."
"Salmon recovery on the west coast depends on keeping the most environmentally damaged stocks from extinction," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), many of whose members depend on healthy salmon runs for their livelihoods. "This new rule would allow the very same federal water agencies who have destroyed many of our salmon runs through years of mismanagement to run for cover and escape their responsibility. The habitat protections and water reforms salmon desperately need to survive could be impossible under this new rule. This could be the death knell for a billion dollars salmon fishery already hard pressed to survive."