Washington, DC — Top Bush administration officials have forbidden wildlife agencies from analyzing the effects of greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power-plants or any other project on species and habitat, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These directives are designed to block the Endangered Species Act (ESA) from being used as a legal tool for addressing global warming.
In a recent series of memos, the Interior Department, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have ruled that since no single source of greenhouse gases will by itself cause detectable climate change, therefore there can be no official review of possible effects on wildlife or their habitats.
In an October 3, 2008 memo to Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Interior Solicitor David Bernhardt concluded that there are no “indirect effects” on wildlife that can be isolated to specific greenhouse gas sources. Moreover, “cumulative effects” Bernhardt opined “are of no relevance in determining whether a proposed action ‘may affect listed species or critical habitat.’”
Similarly, in an October 10, 2008 letter, James Lecky, Director of NOAA’s Office of Protected Species, wrote that impacts on coral and other marine species as well as effects on ocean temperatures and acidity cannot be traced to any one source of greenhouse gas and therefore, no consultation under ESA is required before proceeding. While conceding the question was “an important issue of first impression that is of national significance,” Lecky, nonetheless, reached his conclusion in one week following a request from EPA and without consulting agency scientists. In 2002, Lecky was the official whose actions led to a massive fish kill on the Klamath River, and afterwards he was promoted to his current position.
“Despite findings by their own scientists that our atmosphere is reaching the tipping point, these Bush appointees cling to circular legalisms to justify continued inaction,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The Bush position is that the death by a thousand cuts must be endured because we cannot know how many cuts we can survive.”
Since the Bush administration was forced this spring to list polar bears as a threatened species under the ESA due to melting sea ice habitat caused by global warming, there has been a concerted effort both within and outside the White House to minimize application of this powerful law against specific projects that aggravate the effects of climate change. This posture is forcing wildlife agency officials to deliver distinctly mixed messages. On May 14, 2008, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall ordered his staff to avoid ESA consultations solely on the basis of greenhouse gas pollution. Meanwhile, on his agency website Hall has posted this statement:
“The warming of the earth, however, could potentially have more far-reaching impacts on wildlife and wildlife habitat than any challenge that has come before us.”
“In listing polar bears, the Interior Department admitted that greenhouse gas-induced global warming is having undeniable effects on wildlife, yet now it is saying it cannot justify any ameliorative actions,” Ruch added. “We have already reached the point where any further addition of greenhouses gases will have indirect effects on wildlife, and humans, all over the planet.”