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More Adventures in Staggering Idiocy

August 15, 2008
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Let’s say there’s this antique elaborately constructed cookie jar filled with delicious macaroons (or snickerdoodles or chocolate macadamia nut or oatmeal raisin; whatever floats your boat).

And let’s say you love macaroons (or whatever) and would think nothing of completely destroying the jar to get your sweet sweet macaroon (or whatever) fix as quickly as possible. But there’s this official looking guy preventing you from just reaching in and grabbing whatever cookie you want. You have to present, to his satisfaction, that eating this cookie won’t ruin your diet, or compromise the antique jar (which is magic, by the way, so that there are always cookies in it. Did I mention that? This metaphor is getting complicated). He’s a pain to deal with, but in giving him what he wants he ensures that there are plenty of cookies and that this special magic jar is always there for everyone to enjoy in perpetuity.

But suddenly, the guy is gone. Poof, into the wind. And left there is a picture of him next to a sign that politely asks you to please obey the same rules as before and pretty please with sugar on top be on your honor to treat the jar with respect. What happens then? I think we all know, the jar is busted, the cookies are gone and all you have is a bunch of considerably less magic ceramic shards. In a sense this is what is going on with what is arguably the single most important piece of conservation legislation in the history of the country, the Endangered Species Act.

In documents leaked to the AP and later confirmed by the US Department of the Interior, it’s been brought to light that the Bush Administration proposes, in their last six months in office, to overhaul that act itself in such a way as to make parts of it completely irrelevant. The plan is to eliminate the professional third party environmental impact reviews that are required for any new projects. Such reviews seek to assess impact to endangered wildlife, even if the impact is perceived to be negligible. It’s sort of a “better safe than sorry” provision that has gone a long way towards protecting such species as Whooping Crane, Bald Eagle, Gray Whale, and so many others.

Instead, the Administration suggests that such environmental reviews would be better taken on by the federal agencies and private developers themselves, who of course, would never have an interest in being anything but fair, right? It’s a frighteningly blatant attempt to circumvent real science in the interests of big developers and big business. It’s not even subtle. And that’s not even the most disgusting part. It’s that he’ll get away with it.

Not that this Administration has ever shown anything but outright indifference to the will or welfare of the people of this country, but the executive order that puts these regulations on the books is not subject to congressional or court review at all. They just happen, and attempts by the Congress and a new Administration to change them back will take months at the shortest. Of course, this assumes that there will not be more “important” issues on their plates at the time. Environmental issues always seem to get swept under the rug.

In the end, it’s all a scheme to reduce the ESA to nothing but a piece of paper, while avoiding the public relations issues that come with just wiping it out. But this is nothing new, this policy of dismantling the machinery of bureaucracy followed by the claims that a given program suddenly no longer works (due to lack of funding) is an old republican trick. Unfunded mandates have also popped up the the Departments of Education, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development among others since the Reagan administration and ballooning of the federal deficit. It’s part of the theatre of pretending to care while constantly undermining the authority of regulatory agencies throughout the government. Again and again and again it happens. And too often we environmentalists, and public health advocates, and peace activists, and social justice proponents, etc etc, can only stand helplessly and watch.

If you feel as though you want to do something, anything about this, here’s a petition. Time will tell whether or not it’s only tilting at windmills, but it can’t hurt. You can also write your senatorcongressman and encourage the continuation of impeachment proceedings against the Administration, mine are certainly tired of hearing from me. If nothing else, this ESA business clearly indicates that we cannot simply wait this Administration out. Action needs to be taken now to prevent these sort of actions, or worse, from occurring the last six crucial months.

This is not a time for complacency, we need to do something about this cookie jar.

Update: To submit comments by snail mail, apparently the only way the DoI is accepting them, send to this address:

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

Thanks to Jonathan Talbot from The Access Initiative via A DC Birding Blog for the info.

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4 Comments
  1. Greg permalink
    August 15, 2008 8:22 am

    Really enjoyed the metaphor. I’ll use it in class during current events time Monday.
    Perhaps I’m in denial, but surely we can stop this travesty! Hope your readers take action!

  2. John permalink
    August 15, 2008 9:26 am

    I think that a previous attempt to undermine the ESA through regulations was overturned in the courts, so I think there is judicial review for regulatory decisions. It would be better not to have to go that route, though.

    One thing about this decision that is especially underhanded is that it is only subject to a 30-day comment period and the FWS will not be accepting comments by email. The administration really does not want to get public comments on this regulation.

  3. Greg permalink
    August 15, 2008 1:09 pm

    John, and N8,
    Do you know what the snail mail address is for registering comments?
    g

  4. Arj permalink
    August 15, 2008 5:15 pm

    I expect in the last few months of this ill-begotten Administration we will see an attempt to eviscerate or otherwise tamper with various Depts., agencies, laws as never before witnessed in American history 8-[

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