Bush tries to change the rules on his way out

November 21, 2008 8:01:44 PM PST
As the Bush administration was opening up new oil leases in the Arctic last year, government scientist Steven Amstrup was called to Washington to testify on the impact of global warming on polar bear habitats.

"Within the next 50 years or so that population of polar bears could decline by approximately two-thirds," Amstrup told the committee.

The chair of the House committee that heard the testimony said the new drilling would further threaten the polar bears.

But under changes proposed by the Bush administration, testimony like Amstrup's would be irrelevant. Plans for any project on public lands could be approved without considering the impact on endangered wildlife.

"It's basically saying 'we aren't going to consider science, it's all going to be driven by politics,'" Deputy Executive Director of the Sierra Club Bruce Hamilton said. "To come in at the 11th hour and say, 'oh, we forgot to screw the Endangered Species Act before we leave office, let's make sure we do that...'"

Hamilton calls it a disservice to the American public.

Supporters call it sensible because it is scientifically impossible to precisely link any particular source of greenhouse gasses to overall global warming.

"And that precise effect is what the endangered species act requires before a federal project can be stopped under the law," Damien Schiff said. Schiff is an attorney for the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation, which advocates for private property rights.

Schiff knows that Congress and the incoming administration are lined up against the proposed change. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is already working on a congressional override, which Schiff considers an overreaction.

"I wouldn't doubt Congress would then consider these regulations are actually not nearly as bad as they've been painted to be and therefore are unlikely to be overridden," Schiff said.

THE BACKSTORY: A long list of last minute changes


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