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Endangered Species Overhaul Is NOT About Climate Change

Some media outlets and environmental groups may be missing the point on the Bush administration’s proposed overhaul of the Endangered Species Act by making the issue about global warming. And I tend to think that’s exactly what the administration wants them to do.

The Interior Department said in a press release that its new rule "will help avoid misuse of the ESA to regulate climate change" (in light of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne simultaneously declaring the polar bear a "threatened species" and refusing to address climate change, the phenomenon that threatens it). At Monday’s press conference addressing the new endangered species rule, Secretary Kempthorne said, "It is important to use our time and resources to protect the most vulnerable species. It is not possible to draw a link between greenhouse gas emissions and distant observations of impacts on species."

Much to my dismay, some reporters and advocates are taking this idea — that the new ESA rule is about climate change — and running with it. This troubles me not because I don’t agree that climate change is harming wildlife. (I do.) It troubles me because the proposed changes to the ESA are much, much more sweeping than that. The Bush administration seems to be using climate change as a distraction from the fact that its proposal could potentially gut wildlife protections altogether.

News Flash: The proposed rule as it is written has NOTHING to do with climate change. There is no language in the rule that even so much as mentions the words "climate change" or "global warming." Interior Department spokesman Frank Quimby verified that for me. (You can even search the pdf of the draft leaked to the AP yesterday.)

Yet, Quimby seemed to want me to think that the rule does relate to climate policy. When I interviewed him today for my forthcoming piece on the proposed ESA regulations, he talked about global warming and greenhouse gas emissions.

"Some are arguing," he said, "[that] any new emissions that are permitted, whether from a new highway or anything like that, should require consultation [with independent scientists] because they affect polar bears. No. Science cannot show a direct causal link between emissions 2,000 miles or 5,000 miles away." (Climate scientists might have something to say about that, but I suppose that’s another point for another post.)

So, Quimby concluded, the modifications set by the proposed ESA rule would say that "a federal agency cannot be required to hold consultations because those emissions could affect climate change."

Actually, the modifications would say that federal agencies will no longer be required to hold consultations with independent scientists, period. No matter what the circumstances. It goes that far.

National Wildlife Federation attorney Karla Raettig says the Interior Department is using the climate connection as an excuse. "It’s absolutely not related," she said. "They’re using it as an excuse, but the changes they’re doing have very little to do with climate change, if anything. They’re not revising regulations to deal with global warming…[They're using] it as an excuse to put through some [endangered species] changes that the administration wanted."

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