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General Topic Areas

National Parks (8)
Public land use (12)
Air pollution (28)
Water pollution (24)
Public health (10)
Wetlands (6)
Wildlife protection (12)
Corruption (8)
Forest policy (10)
Global warming (6)
Corporate welfare (3)
Shorelines and oceans (5)
Appointments and resignations (5)
Endangered species
Toxic waste (3)
Environmental enforcement (8)
Outsourcing and privatization (5)
Politicization and deception (11)
Superfund sites and clean-up (4)

Corporate Interests

Energy industry (16)
Oil and gas industry (8)
Automobile industry (2)
Mining industry (4)
Timber industry (19)
Agribusiness (9)
Cattle Industry (5)
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Factory farms (4)

Specific Pollutants

Mercury (3)
MTBE (1)
Methyl Bromide (3)
Formaldehyde (5)
Lead (1)
Atrazine (1)

Specific Issues and Cases

Snowmobile regulation (5)
Roadless Rule (6)
Mountaintop Mining (2)
Klamath Basin Fish Kill (4)
Mining in the Cabinet Mountains (1)
Formaldehyde Rule (7)
Outsourcing CAT (7)
New Source Review (3)
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (1)
Round Up power plant (1)
Clear Skies (3)
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The Bush administration's environmental record

 
  

Project: The Bush administration's environmental record

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April 2002

       Michael Kelly, a federal biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, heads a team for the National Marine Fisheries Service which is charged with reviewing the Bureau of Reclamation's 10-year plan for allocating the Klamath River's water. The team completes a report concluding that the Bureau's plan would jeopardize the coho salmon, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. The report makes its way to lawyers at the Justice Department who reject Kelly's findings and order him to rewrite his biological opinion. Two weeks later, Kelly submits a new report reaffirming the team's earlier findings, but supported by more scientific and detailed legal analysis. The recommendations are again rejected. Against the team's advice, the Bureau of Land management will approve lower water levels for the Klamath River, based on recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, which Kelly refuses to endorse. “Obviously someone at a higher level order the service to accept this new plan,” Kelly will observe. The decision will lead to the death of 33,000 salmon and steelhead trout (see September 2002). [Associated Press, 5/20/2004]
People and organizations involved: National Academy of Sciences, Michael Kelly, Bureau of Land Management
          

September 2002

       More than 33,000 spawning salmon and steelhead trout die in the lower Klamath River due to the rivers abnormally low water level (see November 18, 2003). The fish succumb to “gill rot” which spreads rampantly among the fish as a result of warm water temperatures caused by the river's shallow waters. The lower water-level is a result of the Bureau of Reclamation's decision to cut the river's flow to 750 cubic-feet per second and divert the remaining water to farmers for irrigation. The decision was made against the recommendations of two reports by a team of government biologists (see April 2002). [Associated Press, 5/20/2004; High Country News, 6/23/2003]
          

November 16, 2002

       William Myers, the Interior Department's solicitor general—and a former lobbyist for ranchers—announces to members of the Nevada Cattlemen's Association (NCA) that the Bush administration intends to limit environmental reviews and make it easier for ranchers to graze livestock on public lands. He also says that the Department of Interior is seeking ways to prevent federal laws like the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act from restricting grazing on public lands (see December 5, 2003). [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Associated Press, 11/16/2002] “We should not be using the Endangered Species Act ... as a land management tool. It is not there as a tool for zoning on federal lands,” Myers says. His comments are well received by the NCA. John Falen, a former president of the organization, tells the Associated Press, “Bill's our friend. It's been a long time since we had a friend in the solicitor's office.” [Associated Press, 11/16/2002]
People and organizations involved: Nevada Cattlemen's Association (NCA), Bush administration, William G. Myers III, John Falen
          

August 18, 2003

       The US Fish and Wildlife Service proposes a “new interpretation” of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) which would facilitate the importation of endangered species to the United States and permit hunters, circuses and the pet industry to kill, capture and import them. [Defenders of Wildlife, n.d.; The Washington Post, 10/11/2003] The current interpretation of Section 10 of the ESA sanctions the importing of an endangered animal only under the condition that its relocation to the US would improve its chances for survival, such as captive breeding programs and similar projects aimed at preserving the species. But the Bush administration's proposed change would allow the pet industry, circuses, and even hunters to capture and import endangered species. [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Defenders of Wildlife, n.d.; Defenders of Wildlife, 10/17/2003] The Bush administration claims that its proposed policy—which would help satisfy the huge US demand for live animals, skins, parts and trophies—would be “sustainable” because it would require developing countries that export the endangered animals to use the resulting revenue to fund conservation efforts. [The Washington Post, 10/11/2003] The proposed reinterpretation is condemned by environmental and wildlife advocacy groups, newspaper editorial boards, and members of Congress from both parties. Supporters of the change include the zoo, circus, and trophy hunting industries. [The Washington Post, 10/11/2003; Defenders of Wildlife, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, US Fish and Wildlife Service
          

November 24, 2003

       President Bush signs into law the defense authorization bill, which contains a controversial rider allowing the Pentagon to circumvent the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA). The MMPA prohibits government and commercial interests from engaging in activities harmful to the declining populations of whales, dolphins and seals. The act, passed in 1972, has been credited with halting the decline of some of those populations. The bill also exempts the military from certain provisions of the ESA. [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003; The Washington Post, 11/16/2003] For example, the bill:
Permits the secretary of defense to exempt any military activity from the MMPA, without regard to its impact on whales, seals and dolphins. The Navy claims the MMPA puts American lives at risk because it makes it more difficult for the Navy to detect enemy submarines. [The Washington Post, 11/16/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003; Earth Island Institute, 11/6/2004]

Loosens the MMPA definition of “harassment” of marine mammals, making it almost impossible to enforce the MMPA. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003; Earth Island Institute, 11/6/2004]

Extends the Pentagon's exemptions to scientists who conduct research sponsored by the Navy or other federal agencies. [Earth Island Institute, 11/6/2004]

Eliminates language in the MMPA that prohibits the Navy from doing sonars, invasive research, bomb testing and other activities that threaten the habitat of whales, seals and dolphins. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003; Earth Island Institute, 11/6/2004]

Exempts US military bases and lands from ESA habitat-protection provisions. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says that the new exemption will “improve ... military readiness” even though a General Accounting Office study found that “very few units reported being unable to achieve combat-ready status due to inadequate training areas.” [Earth Island Institute, 11/6/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003 Sources: Military Training: DoD Lacks a Comprehensive Plan to Manage Encroachment on Training Ranges, GAO, June 2002]
Encouraged by their success at weakening the MMPA and ESA, defense officials say that next year they will attempt to modify a court agreement the Pentagon accepted the month before requiring the Navy to limit where it can use its new low-frequency sonar system that has the ability to track quiet diesel submarines. Critics argue the sonar's frequency is so loud that it could kill noise-sensitive whales and dolphins. [The Washington Post, 11/16/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] The military is also planning to seek exemptions to the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Superfund Act (see April 6, 2004). [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Christian Science Monitor, 11/24/2003]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush
          

December 3, 2003

       President Bush signs into law the “Healthy Forest Restoration Act,” (see May 21, 2003) aimed at reducing environmental and judicial review of forest-thinning fire-prevention programs in national forests. The law—modeled on President Bush's “Healthy Forest Initiative” —almost doubles the federal budget for forest-thinning projects to $760 million. [CNN, 12/4/2003; White House, 12/3/2003; Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] The bill axes a requirement that any proposed US Forest Service (USFS) program that may adversely affect endangered plants or animals be reviewed by the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Under the new law, reviews will instead be performed by USFS biologists or other land-management agencies. Marty Hayden, legislative director for Earthjustice, says the measure removes important checks and balances. “The conflict of interest is that the agency whose top job is to do the logging will make this decision, rather than the agency whose top job is to protect threatened or endangered species,” he explains. [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] Critics of the bill argue that it will make it easier for timber companies to log large fire-resistant trees in remote parts of the forest and ignore the needs of at-risk communities who need help clearing flammable brush from the immediate areas surrounding their homes and property. Sean Cosgrove, a forest expert with the Sierra Club, tells CNN: “The timber industry fought real hard for this bill for a reason and it's not because they want to remove brush and chaparral. Through and through this thing is about increasing commercial logging with less environmental oversight.” Overall, critics say, the law reduces environmental review, limits citizen appeals, pressures judges to quickly handle legal challenges to logging plans, and facilitates access for logging companies to America's 20 million acres of federal forests. [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/3/2003; CNN, 12/4/2003]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush, US Forest Service (USFS), Bush administration
          

January 14, 2004

       According to a memo authored by Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, an “Intermountain Region Director's Round Table Discussion” takes place on this date to consider plans to eliminate outside agency reviews of US Forest Service activities that are unrelated to what Bosworth has described as the “four threats” —fire risk, invasive species, un-managed recreation and loss of open space. The measure would end the practices of (1) consulting the US Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA-Fisheries on the effects of land management activities on inland aquatic species; (2) conducting environmental analyses of herbicide applications that are ostensibly done to control invasive plants; and (3) allowing state agencies to review US Forest Service activities that may affect historical and cultural artifacts as required by the Historic Preservation Act. [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; PEER, 3/18/2004 Sources: US Forest Service Internal Memo, Balancing Our Approach, January 14, 2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Dale Bosworth, US Forest Service (USFS)
          

April 28, 2004

       Federal officials confirm that the Bush administration plans to begin using the population statistics of hatchery-bred fish when considering whether stream-bred wild salmon are entitled to protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The new policy rests on five major points: (1) The genetic resources for protecting salmon populations are present in both hatchery-bred and wild fish; (2) Hatchery-bred fish that are “no more than moderately divergent” genetically from wild fish will be included in the same group known as an Evolutionarily Significant Unit, or ESU; (3) Decisions on whether to protect a specific ESU will be based on the entire population; and (4) ESA protection will be based on abundance, productivity, geographic distribution and genetic diversity. [Associated Press, 4/28/2004; The Washington Post, 4/29/2004] This proposal ignores warnings from six of the world's leading experts on salmon ecology who recently argued in the journal Science that hatchery-bred fish are not as fit as those hatched in the wild and should not be relied upon to protect wild salmon populations. [Hatcheries and Endangered Salmon. Science Magazine. 3/26/2004; The Washington Post, 4/29/2004] The scientists had been part of a panel formed at the request of the administration to determine whether or not there are significant differences between hatchery-bred and wild fish. When the panel concluded that hatchery fish are larger and genetically inferior to wild fish and that they should not be counted upon to help wild salmon populations, the scientists were told that their conclusions were inappropriate for official government reports. [Seattle-Post Intelligencer, 4/30/2004; The News Tribune, 5/4/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Sacramento Bee, 5/2/2004; Associated Press, 4/28/2004; The Washington Post, 4/29/2004] One of the panel's scientists, biologist Ransom Myers of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says of the administration's response to their work, “Any science that contradicted them was not welcome.” Justifying the panel's conclusions, he explains, “[Y]ou can't replace wild salmon with hatchery salmon. It's like saying Chihuahuas and wolves are the same.” Robert Paine, a biologist at the University of Washington, who also served on the panel, notes: “The current political and legal wrangling is a sideshow to the real issues. The science is clear and unambiguous—as they are currently operated, hatcheries and hatchery fish cannot protect wild stocks.” [Sacramento Bee, 5/2/2004] The agricultural, timber and energy industries strongly support the new policy plan, having long complained about the costs of ecosystem-wide modifications that the ESA requires businesses to make to roads, farms and dams to protect the salmon habitats. [The Washington Post, 4/29/2004] Salmon protection policies—described as the most expensive and complex of all the endangered species programs—cost roughly $700 million per year. [Sacramento Bee, 5/2/2004; The News Tribune, 5/4/2004; The Washington Post, 4/29/2004] Two weeks later, on May 14, the administration will back away from its proposal. [Seattle Post Intelligencer, 5/15/2004; The Columbian, 5/15/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration
          

May 14, 2004

       Michael Kelly, a federal biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, resigns complaining that “threatened coho salmon in the Klamath basin still do not have adequate flow conditions to assure their survival” and that his recommendations continue to be politicized by higher-ups. Kelley had previously blown the whistle on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) after they had twice rejected the recommendations of a team he headed for the National Marine Fisheries Service (see April 2002). The BLM decision to ignore the recommendations led to the death of 33,000 steelhead and federally protected salmon in the Klamath River (see September 2002), the largest fish kill in US history. More recently, Kelly explains, his regional manager, Jim Lecky, has attempted to overide a study he conducted concluding that a levee repair proposed by the California Department of Fish and Game on the 120-acre Eel River Wildlife Area would endanger California Coastal Chinook salmon and adversely impact Dungeness crab, herring, larval rockfish, eelgrass, other salmonids and the overall ecosystem. “[A]ny amount of caution would dictate that this project never be considered,” he says in a resignation letter he will release on May 19. He says the motivation behind the project appears to be concentrating “certain species of ducks into a smaller area for hunting purposes.” Kelly adds that his position is supported by fisheries biologists within the Department of Fish and Game as well as local wetland scientists and ornithologists. He will also say in his letter that there is low morale among the NOAA Fisheries staff in the region and that his colleagues are “embarrassed and disgusted by the agency's apparent misuse of science.” [PEER, 5/19/2004; Associated Press, 5/20/2004 Sources: May 19, 2004 resignation letter of Michael Kelly]
People and organizations involved: Michael Kelly, Jim Lecky
          


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