Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=112633
Story Retrieval Date: 5/18/2013 6:33:12 AM CST
Gary Kramer/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Shortly after Tuesday’s inauguration, the Obama Administration issued a memo telling the heads of all government agencies to freeze regulations created by former President George W. Bush in his final months in office. Many of these regulations address environmental protection and conservation and local environmentalists are delighted.
“For us, this is a positive sign that science again is going to be part of this administration’s agenda,” said Jen Hensley, grassroots coordinator for the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club.
According to the memorandum, no final or proposed regulation created between Election Day and Inauguration Day will be published by the Federal Register until after review and approval by the new administration. For those that have already been published as law but have not exceeded the 30-day to 60-day enactment period, the memo asks department heads to consider extending the effective date for 60 days.
“It is important that President Obama’s appointees and designees have the opportunity to review and approve any new or pending regulation,” Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said in the memo.
One ruling would remove gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains and Midwest, including parts of Wisconsin, Michigan, Idaho and Minnesota, from the endangered and threatened species list.
“We think that once the Obama Administration has had the time to look at the proposal, it will conclude as we did that the proposal is not based in science or in law and ought to be withdrawn,” said Andrew Wetzler, director of the endangered species project at the National Resources Defense Council.
“So we are very hopeful and confident that the Obama Administration will ultimately decide to not go forward with delisting the wolf at this time.”
Roughly 30 of Bush’s 66 “midnight regulations” fall under the freeze, including plans that would loosen air pollution thresholds and regulations tightening the hold on agencies’ public information.
Though not affected by the freeze, other policies pushed through in former President Bush’s final days in office will likely come up for review.
Environmentalists are particularly concerned about other changes to the Endangered Species Act including a policy they say limits protections for endangered species and wildlife.
Specifically, the law would no longer require independent reviews by government scientists on projects such as dams, power plants and timber sales. These reviews help identify modifications necessary for protecting the environment, and some developers and government agencies have repeatedly blamed this 35-year-old mandate for delays and cost increases.
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would no longer be consulted on large-scale projects—that more than anything illustrates the Bush Administration’s disregard for science,” Hensley said.
The policy also would limit protections aimed at combating global warming. Under the previous law, when agencies evaluate a project’s affect on global warming, they can include an assessment on how it affects endangered species and those animals’ habitats. Bush’s regulation prohibits this.
U.S. Department of Interior officials under the Bush Administration said the regulatory changes would free up scientists to consult on cases that pose the greatest threat to wildlife, while conservationists fear the regulation removes wildlife expertise from projects that directly impact the environment.
Interior department spokesman Frank Quimby, however, said, though the consultations rule has already gone into effect, it “does not convey or imply a position by the administration or the department one way or another.” In a phone interview from Washington, Quimby said the change to the Endangered Species Act had already completed the rule-making process so it is not subject to the freeze, but he expects the administration and the department to release a stance on the matter soon.
Meanwhile, the National Resources Defense Council will continue “working very intensely on fighting those regulations,” Wetzler said. The group has filed a lawsuit against the regulation that now involves eight states including California, New Jersey, New York and Oregon.