Obama restores endangered species oversight

President Obama announced yesterday that he will restore strong scientific “consultations” for actions affecting species listed under Endangered Species Act. His order reverses a Bush policy that said agencies could do their own reviews.

The video, at right, shows Obama making the announcement before an audience of Interior Department employees celebrating the 160th anniversary of the agency.

One of the best examples regarding the need for consultation comes from the Northwest, where we have salmon listed as threatened and endangered. The Environmental Protection Agency was required to review how certain pesticides affect fish. The EPA failed to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is responsible for protecting salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act. Environmental groups sued and won.

When the consultation finally took place, NMFS scientists revamped the methodology used by the EPA and came up with a more credible calculation of risk, as well as proposing stronger protections for certain species. See my story in the Kitsap Sun Nov. 18 or read information issued by the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides.

There are many examples in which consultation with scientists outside the lead agency has resulted in a better decision. Since the Bush policy is so new, I’m not aware of any decisions affecting endangered species that did not include consultations with the NMFS or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If you are aware of any, please let me know.

Obama’s reversal in policy brought applause from environmental groups.

“With this action Mr. Obama has restored the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NMFS to their rightful authority as scientific advisers to federal agencies and has signaled that the Endangered Species Act, like many of the plants and animals it protects, is on its way to recovery,” said Michael Bean, attorney and wildlife expert for the Environmental Defense Fund.

“Obama’s move today puts expert scientists back in the driver’s seat for management of the nation’s endangered species,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Obama has acted swiftly to meet an important campaign promise and show that he puts science and endangered species before politics.”

Business leaders were not thrilled, saying government regulations would only slow down approvals for all projects, even the routine ones.

A statement from Keith McCoy, vice president of energy and resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers:

“In a time of serious economic crisis, it is more important than ever that we move forward with energy development and construction wherever feasible. The inevitable result of upending this Interior rule will be to delay and possibly deny badly-needed development projects.

“This will not stimulate economic growth, it will undermine it. The NAM looks forward to working with the Obama Administration and members of Congress to implement federal policies that promote economic expansion while protecting environmental quality and health, including the health of manufacturing workers and their families.”

Here’s the text of Obama’s executive memo on the issue.

2 thoughts on “Obama restores endangered species oversight

  1. As unlikely as it seems, the National Marine Fisheries Service consults on every aspect of short- and long-term harvest-management plans for more than 20 stocks of Northwest salmon.

    After assurance that sport and commercial fisheries won’t jeopardize long-term survival of the fish, the agency issues “incidental take” permits for killing listed species. That includes death by gillnets, purse seines, beach seines, rod-and-reel and so on.

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