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The Bush administration's environmental record: Wildlife protection

 
  

Project: The Bush administration's environmental record

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April 15, 2003

       The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announces that it plans to ease environmental protections for wildlife habitat in the Alaskan Western Arctic Reserve. The Bush administration is looking into opening the Western Arctic Reserve for oil and gas drilling, specifically a 600,000 acre area around and including the state's largest arctic lake, Teshekpuk Lake. [Bureau of Land Management-Alaska, 4/15/2004; Petroleum News, Vol. 8, No. 16, 4/20/2003; Reuters, 4/15/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] Peter Ditton, BLM's associate state director for Alaska, stresses that the area is important for oil resources and also as a development base. A ConocoPhillips (Alaska)-Anadarko Petroleum partnership has its sights on the area which includes the “Barrow Arch East Plays,” estimated to have some 2 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil. [Petroleum News, Vol. 8, No. 16, 4/20/2003] Oil and gas drilling would threaten the habitat of musk oxen, spotted seals, arctic peregrine falcons and beluga whales, among other species. [Natural Resources Defense Council, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Peter Ditton, Bureau of Land Management, Kathleen Clarke, Bush administration
          

May 13, 2003

       The US Fish and Wildlife Service revises a Clinton-era judgment which had concluded that the proposed construction and operation of two mines in the Cabinet Mountains of Montana would likely have an adverse impact on the local population of grizzly bears. In January 2002, twelve months after the Bush administration came into office, the mining companies filed a lawsuit protesting this judgment. The US Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to reconsider the case reasoning that it needed to “make sure that it [had been] based on the best available science.” Some time after the decision was made to reconsider the case, one of the mining companies abandoned its permit. The Fish and Wildlife Service, in its new judgment, concludes that the operation of one mine would not threaten the area's grizzly bears. [Fish and Wild Service, 5/13/2003; Earth Justice, 1/29/2002; Missoulian, 5/14/2003] The proposed Rock Creek Mine, a copper and silver mine, would be the first large-scale mining operation to take place in a wilderness area. It would remove up to 10,000 tons of materials each day for up to 35 years. Critics argue that traffic brought by the mine and its accompanying roads would harm the local populations of grizzlies and bull trout and contaminate the surrounding watershed. [Fish and Wild Service, 5/13/2003; The Washington Post, 5/18/2003; Missoulian, 5/14/2003; Clark Fork Coalition website] The company that would operate the mine, Sterling Corporation, and its executives have a poor business and environmental record. [Mattera and Khan, 1/2003; Clark Fork Coalition website]
People and organizations involved: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Sterling Corporation, Bush administration
          

June 23, 2003

       The Bush administration releases its “Draft Report on the Environment,” which concludes that by many measures US air is cleaner, drinking water purer and public lands better protected than they had been thirty years ago. The document, commissioned in 2001 by the agency's administrator, Christie Whitman, is comprised of five sections: “Cleaner Air,” “Purer Water,” “Better Protected Land,” “Human Health,” and “Ecological conditions.” But it is later learned that many of its conclusions rest on questionable data. Moreover, the report leaves out essential information on global climate change and pollution sources. [New York Times, 6/19/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d. Sources: 2003 Draft Report on the Environment] In its “Purer Water” section, the report claims that “94 percent of the [US] population served by community water systems [was] served by systems that met all health-based standards.” But on August 6, The Washington Post will reveal that on June 18 (see June 18, 2003), an internal inquiry had been launched over concerns that the source data was flawed. “Internal agency documents ... show that EPA audits for at least five years have suggested that the percentage of the population with safe drinking water is much lower—79 percent to 84 percent in 2002—putting an additional 30 million Americans at potential risk,” the newspaper will report. [The Washington Post, 8/6/2003] Another troubling feature of the report is that a section on global climate change was removed from the report prior to publication because EPA officials were unhappy with changes that had been demanded by the White House. Some time during the spring, administration officials had asked the agency to delete references to a 2001 report (see June 2001) concluding that human activities contribute to global warming and information from a 1999 study indicating that global temperatures had risen significantly over the previous decade compared with the last 1,000 years. “In its place, administration officials added a reference to a new study, partly financed by the American Petroleum Institute, questioning that conclusion,” the New York Times reports. Irritated with the White House's influence on the report, EPA staffers wrote in an April 29 confidential memo that it “no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change.” Unable to reach a compromise with the White House, the EPA elected to drop the entire section. [New York Times, 6/19/2003; CBS News, 6/19/2003; Associated Press, 6/20/2003] In place of a thorough discussion of the issue, the report only says: “The complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific challenge to document change, diagnose its causes, and develop useful projections of how natural variability and human actions may affect the global environment in the future. Because of these complexities and the potentially profound consequences of climate change and variability, climate change has become a capstone scientific and societal issue for this generation and the next, and perhaps even beyond.” [Boston Globe, 6/20/2003; The Guardian, 6/20/2003] The EPA's report also left out information on the potentially adverse effects that pesticides and industrial chemicals have on humans and wildlife. [New York Times, 6/19/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration
          

October 8, 2003

       Interior Secretary Gale Norton signs a legal opinion by Deputy Solicitor Roderick Walston reversing the interpretation of the agency's previous solicitor-general, John Leshy, who had ruled in 1996 that the 1872 Mining Law limits each 20-acre mining claim on federal land to a single five-acre waste site. As a result of Norton's decision, mining companies will be permitted to dump unlimited amounts of toxic waste on public lands, threatening surrounding waterways, wildlife, and the health of local human populations. The Bush administration and the mining industry have argued that the Clinton-era opinion caused a significant reduction in US minerals exploration, mine development and mining jobs since 1997. “It created an atmosphere of uncertainty and when you are making investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, uncertainty is not something you want to face,” explains Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson. “We anticipate we will now see more development and exploration for mining.” The decision was praised by the mining industry. “This is good news,” Russ Fields, executive director of the Nevada Mining Association. “The old opinion did create a lot of uncertainty for our industry.” [Associated Press, 10/10/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Gale A. Norton, Bush administration, Roderick Walston, John Leshy
          

November 18, 2003

       The US Fish and Wildlife Service accepts the blame for a government policy that resulted in the largest fish kill in history. The US Fish and Wildlife Service admits that its decision (see April 2002) to authorize a water diversion in the Upper Klamath Basin for the benefit of commercial agriculture, trapped migrating Chinook, Coho salmon, and other species in stagnant water, killing some 33,000 fish (see September 2002). [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/19/2003 Sources: Klamath River Fish Die-off, September 2002: Causative Factors of Mortality]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, US Fish and Wildlife Service
          

November 21, 2003

       The Bureau of Land Management grants Questar Exploration and Development Corporation a special exemption to drill four gas wells on Wyoming's Pinedale Mesa throughout the winter season for the second year in a row. The company will drill the wells from a single pad using directional drilling technology instead of from multiple pads which would require the use of more space and the construction of more roads. Normally companies are barred from drilling between November 15 and April 30 in order to protect the region's wildlife population. [Associated Press, 11/24/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] For at least 6,000 years, the area has served as a crucial winter range and migration corridor between the Wind River and Wyoming mountain ranges for more than 100,000 mule deer, pronghorn antelope, moose, elk, and bighorn sheep. Biologists fear that winter drilling in the region could disrupt this annual migration, causing significant losses to the wildlife population. For example, the corridor is critical to the survival of a herd of pronghorn antelope because it receives a lesser amount of snow than the surrounding areas. Pronghorn antelope cannot survive in the deep snow because it makes it impossible for them to evade their predators. [National Geographic, 3/28/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Questar Exploration and Development, Bureau of Land Management
          

February 15, 2004

       The US Forest Service reverses its ban on poisoning prairie dogs on five national grasslands in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. The measure is a response to complaints from the livestock industry that prairie dog populations are spreading from federal lands onto private property, ruining grazing land, causing erosion and damaging roads. Critics of the decision to lift the ban note that in 2000, the US Fish and Wildlife Service had concluded that prairie dogs should be listed as a threatened species. [Associated Press, 2/14/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush, US Forest Service (USFS)
          

February 16, 2004

       EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt signs a final rule permitting power plants to continue using the “once-through” method to cool their turbines. The practice—condemned by critics as the most environmentally-damaging method of cooling available—relies upon water continually drawn from lakes, rivers and reservoirs for the power plants' cooling systems. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004; Environmental News Network, 2/18/2004; Associated Press, 1/9/2004; Riverkeeper, 2/17/2004; Democratic Policy Committee, n.d.; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] Every year, some 200 million pounds of aquatic organisms are killed when they are trapped in the intake screens or forced through the water intake structures of these power plants. The new rule requires large power plants to reduce the number of fish and shellfish drawn into the cooling systems by 80 to 95 percent. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004] However, the rule also provides large power plants with several “compliance alternatives,” such as using existing technologies, implementing additional fish protection technologies, restocking fish populations and creating wildlife habitat. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004; Democratic Policy Committee, n.d.] Leavitt's decision to sanction the continued use of the “once-through” method goes against the advice of his own staff which recommended requiring power plants to upgrade to closed-cycle cooling systems which use 95 percent less water and which pose far less of a risk to aquatic ecosystems. But the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which works under the White House's Office of Management and Budget, reportedly opposed requiring plants to switch to the newer more expensive closed-cycle system. [Environmental News Network, 2/18/2004; Riverkeeper, 2/17/2004] The new rule applies to 550 power plants that withdraw 222 billion gallons of water daily from American waterways. [Environmental Protection Agency, 2/16/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Mike Leavitt, Environmental Protection Agency  Additional Info 
          

March 23, 2004

       The Oregon and California State Offices of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Pacific Southwest and Pacific Northwest Regional Offices of the Forest Service jointly announce two changes to the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan that will reduce federal wildlife protections and lead to increased logging on public lands in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. The first change drops the “survey and manage” rule, which requires forest managers to search forests for about 300 rare plants and animals not yet listed under the Endangered Species Act prior to the logging of old-growth forests. The Forest Service says that the process is time-consuming and expensive, thus making it difficult for timber companies to meet the maximum, allowable, annual timber harvest level of 800 million board feet a year that is permitted under the Northwest Forest Plan. The US Forest Service estimates that this change will allow the timber industry to log an additional 70 million board feet a year. The second change concerns the plan's Aquatic Conservation Strategy (ACS), which was created to restore and maintain the ecological health of watersheds and aquatic ecosystems in order to ensure that logging and roadbuilding does not damage salmon bearing watersheds. Instead of requiring that individual logging projects meet all ACS requirements, forest managers will only have to see that the standards are met at the “fifth-field watershed scale,” which usually represents an area of about 20,000 to 100,000 acres. [Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service, 3/23/2004; Oregonian, 3/24/2004; Los Angeles Times, 3/25/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, US Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Management
          

April 5, 2004

       The US Fish and Wildlife Service releases an economic analysis on bull trout recovery titled, “Draft Economic Analysis of Critical Habitat Designation for the Bull Trout.” The study—written by Bioeconomics Inc. of Missoula, Montana—had been commissioned by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to serve as the basis for cost-benefit analysis. Once approved, Interior Secretary Gale Norton will use the data from the report to determine whether the costs of bull trout recovery outweigh the benefits. The report estimates that protecting bull trout and its habitat in the Columbia and Klamath river basins would cost between $230 and $300 million over the next ten years. But missing from the published version of the report is a 55-page section demonstrating $215 million in quantifiable economic benefits. The section had concluded that a healthy bull trout fishery would result in increased revenue from fishing fees, reduced drinking water costs and increased water for irrigation farmers. It also included discussion of other benefits not easily quantified in monetary terms. For example, it discussed the positive effects recovery would have on other trout species, in-stream flows and water quality in lakes and streams. Additionally, the missing section noted that there was a “number of published studies have demonstrated that the public holds values for endangered and threatened fish species separate and distinct from any expected direct use of the species.” According to Diane Katzenberger, an information officer in the Fish and Wildlife Service's Denver office, the decision to discard the section was made in Washington. “It did not come out of Denver or Portland,” she explains. But Katzenberger nonetheless defends the decision claiming that it is difficult to assign “a dollar value to a biological benefit.” She further explains that while it is possible to estimate the costs of consultation and of road upgrades and culvert replacements, “We don't know the dollar value of biological benefits. And no matter what, it would be a comparison of apples to oranges.” [The Washington Post, 4/17/2004; The Missoulian, 4/15/2004; Ravalli Republic, 4/16/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] Chris Nolin, chief of the division of conservation and classification at the Fish and Wildlife Service, dismissed criticisms that the decision to delete the section was based on politics. “OMB uses very strict methodology” he says, adding that the OMB has “told us repeatedly in the past to remove this kind of analysis” from public reports. But as The Washington Post notes: “The federal government, however, often publicizes analyses of the benefits of Bush administration proposals for environmental clean-up. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, found $113 billion in benefits over 10 years from provisions of the administration's 2003 Clear Skies Act.” [The Washington Post, 4/17/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Diane Katzenberger, Chris Nolin, Office of Management and Budget, Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bush administration
          

April 8, 2004

       The US Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that the Pacific fisher, a rare relative of weasels, otters and minks, is at risk of extinction and warrants federal protection, but says that the agency lacks the funds needed to adequately protect the species. The Fish and Wildlife Service says it will make the animal a candidate for listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Pacific fisher's status will be reviewed annually until it is either added to the list or until the species' population recovers to a level that no longer warrants federal protection. Critics complain that not only is the federal government failing in its obligation to protect endangered species, but it is pursuing policies that damage its habitat, such as the Bush administration's forest preservation policies that encourage increased logging (see December 3, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/9/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bush administration
          

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. [The Washington Post, 4/29/2004; Associated Press, 4/28/2004] 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. [The Washington Post, 4/29/2004; Associated Press, 4/28/2004; Sacramento Bee, 5/2/2004; Seattle-Post Intelligencer, 4/30/2004; The News Tribune, 5/4/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] 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. [The Washington Post, 4/29/2004; Sacramento Bee, 5/2/2004; The News Tribune, 5/4/2004] 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
          


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