It’s good to know that scientists have been invited back to the government’s decision making table. After years of being ignored by the Bush Administration (think snowmobiles in Yellowstone despite Park Service findings that they are harmful to wildlife and air quality), it appears government scientists are already getting some well-deserved respect from the Obama Administration.
At The Wilderness Society, our scientists have been cheered by administration pledges to bring science back. And already, the new administration has shown a number of promising signs that it’s offering more than lip service to the restoration of science in policy decisions affecting the environment and wildlife.
For example, in January, Obama bought some time to more fully review protection of grey wolves in the Rockies by staying a Bush attempt to remove federal protection. In February, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced the rescinding of land leases for oil shale development until more thought can be put into the large amounts of energy and water required to develop this dirty fuel.
The undermining Bush regulation–one of many disturbing environmental rollbacks of his lame duck era—ended requirements for federal agencies to consult independent scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service when planning projects that could affect critical habitat for species, such as the construction of a road through a forest.
The Bush move was passed off as an assist to “interagency cooperation,” which sounds ok on paper, but the reality is that it gave federal agencies with limited ecological expertise the ability to determine if projects they had a stake in could move forward. It was equivalent to letting hurried airline passengers bypass security; while they might arrive at the gate faster, I’m not so sure I would want to be on that plane.
The Bush regulation also had global warming implications in that it took away the government’s ability to consider a project’s greenhouse gas emissions and their effect on habitat. So, under the Bush regs for example, federal agencies would not have to consider the destructive effects of pollution on the icy habitat that polar bears and walruses depend on for survival.
Now, with Obama’s reversal of the regulation, federal scientists will rightfully regain their voice, and the nation will be better advised about activities that further imperil plant and animal species struggling to survive.
What a relief to see this bad idea reversed and the power of science restored.
By Laura Bailey