Audubon is the pre-eminent bird watching organization in the United States and as one of its senior officers, I can state in all confidence that President Bush is one lame duck we are ready to see leave town.
The president’s staff this month invited Audubon to appear alongside him and the Interior Secretary as they unveiled a grab bag of bird conservation proposals at a refuge in Maryland.
Already well into his presidency, he had chalked up a dismal environmental record undermining enforcement, ignoring science and undoing good policy.
At the event, the president credited his inspiration to the First Lady, whom he called a “birdwatcher extraordinaire.”
We offered cautious praise for his plan that day, and weeks later our magazine would express optimism that perhaps in the closing months of his presidency, Bush had turned a corner.
Sadly, the greening of the Bush presidency was short-lived.
I’ve been in Washington long enough to know that as presidents get ready to leave the White House, they generally sign off on a raft of regulatory changes and policy pronouncements.
It’s a Washington ritual that always reveals an administration’s true colors.
So it came as no surprise but with great disappointment that we began to hear that Mr. Bush was preparing a number of anti-environmental measures as he limps toward the door.
We recently got the first salvo.
President Bush’s Interior Department announced plans to gut the Endangered Species Act, the law that saved the bald eagle, the whooping crane and so many other rare and special birds from extinction.
This proposal would allow agencies to decide for themselves whether projects they permit – such as mining operations or the construction of federal highways – may harm endangered species.
Some have called it a “self regulating” policy, a clever euphemism for one of the most destructive actions conceived in the Interior Department.
The law currently requires federal agencies to consult with federal biologists on any project that affects an area where an endangered species is present and the project is likely to harm the species. It’s sound science to do so and it makes common sense.
The Bush proposal eliminates the critical checks and balances this policy provides and effectively cuts wildlife experts out of the process of making scientific decisions that are critical to the fate of imperiled species.
The Bush administration’s approach to the Endangered Species Act has been the very definition of bad government: special interest politics with serious policy consequences.
In failing to list species, designate habitat and by suppressing science, this administration’s environmental track record is one largely of neglect, pretense and manipulation.
If we are now expected to support rash and hasty rulemaking in their final months, then I for one will have to add the words “brash” and “foolhardy” to their epitaph.
Betsy Loyless is senior vice president of the National Audubon Society (www.audubon.org).