Senator Inhofe is on the case!

by Dan Rohlf

March 16, 2009

The Associated Press reported last week that the Commerce Department’s inspector general is looking into who leaked a draft of the Bush Administration’s plans to prevent federal agencies from considering the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, expressing concern over what he termed “a serious abdication of duty” by the government official or officials who leaked the document to the National Wildlife Federation last summer, called for the investigation. The draft changes to ESA regulations surfaced in August 2008, revealing the outgoing administration’s efforts to weaken the Act’s Section 7 consultation process by allowing agencies to ignore impacts to endangered species “manifested through global processes,” a clear reference to climate change.

The Department of Interior finalized the regulatory revisions just in time for them to go into effect before the new administration took office – ignoring overwhelming public comments against the changes. In one of its first major environmental decisions, the Obama Administration last week put the new regulations on hold and signaled its intention to modify or eliminate them.

Though Senator Inhofe characterized his hunt for the official who leaked the draft ESA regulations in terms of protecting the governmental integrity, he was apparently never troubled by leaks and a variety of questionable actions by the Bush Administration in connection with the nation’s most important biodiversity conservation statute. For example, the Senator did not call for an inquiry into why the Department of Interior modified ESA consultation rules that had been in place for more than two decades without the support of the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) – the agency primarily responsible for implementing the ESA. The Senator was also noticeably silent when the Interior Department inspector general issued two reports detailing former Deputy Interior Secretary Julie McDonald’s repeated efforts to bully FWS scientists, quash listing decisions and critical habitat designations, and leak confidential documents to industry officials.

Senator Inhofe is a staunch supporter of the Bush regulations’ effort to place consideration of climate change off limits under the ESA – despite overwhelming scientific evidence that changes triggered by a warming climate have already altered many ecosystems and now loom as a major threat to imperiled species around the globe. The Bush ESA regulations’ head-in-the-sand position regarding climate change aligns with Inhofe’s well-known skepticism about global warming, a position he reiterated in a January speech on the Senate floor that concluded with a warning that leaders are ignoring “new science” showing that “we are in a cooling period.” Inhofe remains one of the major obstacles in the Senate to comprehensive climate change legislation.

Talk about a serious abdication of duty...

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Daniel Rohlf is a Professor of Law and Of Counsel, Earthrise Law Center at the Lewis and Clark Law School.

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