200,000 Letters In 32 Hours?

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008 at 11:20 am

In what looks like an effort to rush through proposed rules to overhaul the Endangered Species Act, the Interior Dept. has said it plans on reviewing 200,000 public comments in just 32 hours, according to The Associated Press.

The agency actually received a total of 300,000 comments, but says 100,000 of those were form letters.

Just 15 employees of the Interior Dept.’s Fish and Wildlife Service are going through all the comments and plan to complete the process by close of business Friday. That means each employee would have to review seven letters every minute for the rest of this week. Some comments can get up to hundreds of pages long. That’s why this process usually takes months.

The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Nick Rahall (D-W.V.), called this 32-hour deadline a “last-ditch attempt to undermine the long-standing integrity of the Endangered Species program,” according to The AP.

If you haven’t been following this story closely, let’s recap. So far, it seems the Bush administration has gone to great lengths to rush through its plan for the Endangered Species Act.

First, the White House tried keeping the plan hush-hush before it was leaked to The AP, at which point a last-minute, emergency press conference was called.

Second, the Bush administration decided that Congress would not have to review and approve the plan.

Third, the administration tried to get away with a 30-day public comment period, which is no time at all as far as public comment periods go. After facing serious backlash, it was forced to extend that period by another 30 days — which is still a really short period of time.

Now, the administration is taking just four days to review the many public comments.

Needless to say, things don’t work this fast in government. Many environmentalists say this is an obvious attempt to streamline an exceedingly unpopular proposal. But why is President George W. Bush working so hard to overhaul the Endangered Species Act on his way out of office?

Jamie Rappaport Clark, former head of the Fish and Wildlife Service and current executive director of Defenders of Wildlife, says the administration is responding to heavy pressure from industrial interests. “Somebody has lit a fire under these guys to get this done in due haste,” Clark told The AP.

If the White House manages to pass the proposed plan before a new president is sworn in, it could take a long time for that plan to be overturned. A new administration would have to launch a new public comment period and a new review process, which could take months or even years  — at least it usually does.

Multiple conservation groups are ready to take legal action if the current plan gets through. But we’ll have to wait and see how hard that would be and how long it would take, especially with the current administration out the door and a new one on its way in.

Comments

5 Comments

Jon
Comment posted October 22, 2008 @ 9:48 am

One more item to add to the recap: On Sept. 24th, Assistant Secretary of Interior Lyle Laverty was scheduled to appear before the Senate Environment and Public Works committee to discuss the proposal, but he bailed out at the last minute. He told the committee he couldn't get his testimony approved by higher ups, though an Interior spokesperson said he canceled at the request of the ranking minority member, who led a republican boycott of the hearing.


iwilker
Comment posted October 23, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

Interesting insight from Andrew Wetzler, a lawyer and ESA expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, on his blog:

Having the Department of Interior, rather than the Fish and Wildlife Service, respond to the comments is consistent with some informal conversations I’ve had with Agency personnel, who told me that the scientists and policy experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service were not consulted on these proposed rule changes and would not be taking any role in analyzing them. Reading between the lines a bit, it sounded to me that the Service’s career employees were none to happy about the proposal or the Administration’s failure to run it through normal channels. Put another way, these rule changes are almost entirely the product of political appointees at the Department of the Interior and it looks like the Bush Administration is determined to keep it that way.

Wetzler's been a really good source on this issue.


iwilker
Comment posted October 24, 2008 @ 12:17 am

Interesting insight from Andrew Wetzler, a lawyer and ESA expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, on his blog:

Having the Department of Interior, rather than the Fish and Wildlife Service, respond to the comments is consistent with some informal conversations I’ve had with Agency personnel, who told me that the scientists and policy experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service were not consulted on these proposed rule changes and would not be taking any role in analyzing them. Reading between the lines a bit, it sounded to me that the Service’s career employees were none to happy about the proposal or the Administration’s failure to run it through normal channels. Put another way, these rule changes are almost entirely the product of political appointees at the Department of the Interior and it looks like the Bush Administration is determined to keep it that way.

Wetzler's been a really good source on this issue.


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