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Treading water in a diminished gene pool

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
April 10, 2003


"The earth we abuse and the living things we kill, in the end, take their revenge; for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future." — Marya Mannes

When is good news not really good news? Usually when it involves Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton and her utilitarian view of stewardship. Last week amidst what appeared to be environmental victories on the surface, closer inspection revealed Bush/Cheney environmental policy is nothing more than a rhetoric intended to obscure the dismantling of federal environmental regulations.

The first positive news came when The Bush administration said it will not appeal a court decision upholding California's right to ban oil and gas exploration in federal waters off the central coast. Downplaying a reversal in policy, officials said they now prefer to resolve the dispute through negotiations rather than in the courts. In other words legal challenges were unsuccessful, so market manipulation and deal making is all that is left. And nobody believes corporate efforts to extend the leases or push forward with new drilling, has been abandoned. Basically nothing has changed.

Of course the extraction lobbyists in the West Wing want us to think they have had a change of heart. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead they are attempting to rewrite the definition of environmental protection to include collateral extinctions and free market ecology. The 36 undeveloped oil leases located in federal waters off the coast, between the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary were leased before the creation of the marine sanctuaries, and the moratorium on new offshore oil and gas drilling.

Bush administration officials have not said they are giving up on these leases.

The Bush Administration has also announced a new policy supposedly to help "guide" efforts to restore populations of declining species, before they require protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Designed to be a consistent and adequate evaluation of conservation efforts, the Policy for Evaluation of Conservation Efforts (PECE) identifies certain criteria to determine whether a future or recently implemented conservation effort merits delisting a species or changing a listing from endangered to threatened.

Insidious is an adjective that comes to mind.

No one expects the Bush Administration to seriously consider making additions to the federal list of threatened and endangered species. Secretary Norton has listed only a single imperiled species under the ESA. This is hardly surprising, as a corporate lawyer Ms. Norton litigated vigorously against the Endangered Species Act and other federal statutes the Interior Department is sworn to uphold. Under the management of Gail Norton, Western economic interests like ranching, mining and forestry will always outweigh those of wildlife, habitat, and ecological sustainability.

On the surface, statements by Ms. Norton such as "We hope this policy will encourage active conservation efforts before a species and its habitat are critically imperiled. Such efforts will increase the likelihood that simple, cost- effective conservation actions are undertaken to reverse population decline, preventing the need to list some species," seem benign enough. That is until you consider the lack of commitment inherent in phrases such as "we hope" and "will increase the likelihood." Such empty verbosity is meant to mask the administration's intent under a "blanket of words."

Linguistic sleight of hand will do nothing to protect grizzly bears, spotted owls, sea otters, gnatcatchers, and other endangered species from the riptide of extinction. Nor will the compassionate capitalism espoused by Ms. Norton and the corporations she was appointed to serve. What ever the Bush administration is up to with its latest announcements, suffice it to say it has nothing to do with environmental protection. We all know it is impossible to preserve and conserve ecosystems while looting them of every possible natural resource.

Green wash and hollow promises cannot erase Ms. Norton's openly expressed contempt for ecological restraint, and any policy that even hints at limiting economic exploitation of public lands. Ms. Norton is an untiring advocate of "self-audit" regulations, which let companies conduct voluntary audits in order to document compliance with environmental requirements. In Gail Norton, George W. Bush is perfectly represented by a goodtime girl eager to put out for private corporations.

I wish I could take comfort in the news coming out of Washington, but that would mean ignoring the actions of an administration dedicated to rewriting reality in order to justify an ideology that worships money and values profit above all else. Thankfully most Californians consider the Bush Administration to be a direct threat to our quality of life, so it is unlikely the Bush brigade will be able to wag war on California's commitment to biological health, and ecological well-being.

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