Thursday, August 23, 2007

The law-breaking Bush bunch

[Illustration via The Satirical Political Report]

-- by Dave

We've all been impressed, I think, by the Bush administration's brazen lawlessness in the past year -- its naked flouting of the FISA courts in its wiretapping programs, its refusal to abide by lawful congressional subpoenas in the U.S. Attorneys investigation.

But when it comes to placing itself above the law, these are only the tip of the iceberg, as it, were for this administration. Perhaps its most naked -- though less noticed -- assault on the rule of law lies in its treatment of the Endangered Species Act.

You may recall that shortly after the 2006 election, the administration made it clear that it was proceeding with the conservative agenda on the ESA -- which is to say, that it intended to gut the law.

The Bush assault on environmental law began well before then, of course. As early as 2002, it transparently violated the ESA in order to accede to the demands of a pack of far-right 'Patriots' demanding the Klamath River water be diverted away from salmon, resulting in the largest fish kill in the history of the West -- a fact the administration and other Republicans are still running away from. And as subsequent reportage has detailed, the involvement reached the highest levels of the White House.

Likewise, the Bush administration has been caught playing politics with scientific decisions that affect ESA enforcement, and recently has been playing outrageous games with policies regarding the use of Navy sonar around the Puget Sound's ESA-protected killer whales.

Now the administration's top forestry official is facing contempt proceedings for his failure to adhere to the ESA and subsequent refusal at even act on a lawful court order:
A federal judge in Montana has ordered the Bush administration’s top forestry official to explain why he should not be held in contempt of court for the U.S. Forest Service’s failure to analyze the environmental impacts of dropping fish-killing fire retardant on wildfires.

If found in contempt, Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, could go to jail until the Forest Service complies with the court order to do the environmental review.

Noting that Rey had blocked implementation of an earlier review, U.S. District Judge Donald W. Malloy in Missoula, Mont., ordered Rey to appear in his court Oct. 15 unless the Forest Service completes the analysis before that time — an outcome Malloy deemed unlikely.

“It has been six years since Forest Service staff completed a ‘retardant EA’ — only to have higher-up officials embargo it,” Malloy wrote in an order issued late Friday. “The time I am giving is likely to prove insufficient if: 1) the agency is simply unwilling to follow the law; or, 2) it is prevented from following the law by its political masters, as was the case when Under Secretary of Agriculture Mark Rey ordered that formal (Endangered Species Act) consultation regarding fire retardant not to occur.”

Forest Service spokesman Joe Walsh said the agency was working on the analysis, but he could not say whether they would meet the new deadline, because it was two months away.

Rey did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.

Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, an environmental group based in Eugene, filed the lawsuit in 2003, a year after more than 20,000 fish were killed when toxic retardant was dropped in Fall Creek in central Oregon.

The administration's assault on environmental law, of course, is not restricted to the ESA. Yesterday, a judge in San Francisco has ruled once again that the administration is flagrantly violating the law (and flouting Congress as well) in its report on global warming:
The Bush administration has violated a 2004 congressional deadline for presenting the latest scientific research about global warming to lawmakers and the public and must submit its report by next spring, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

Federal officials have "unlawfully withheld action they are required to take," preparing a new scientific assessment by November 2004 and a research plan by July 2006, said U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong of Oakland. "Congress has imposed clear-cut, unambiguous deadlines for compliance."

A 1990 federal law requires the government to produce a scientific report every four years on climate change and its effects on the environment, including land, water, air, plant and animal life, and human health.

The Clinton administration issued the first report in October 2000, warning of severe effects on different regions. The Bush administration has not issued a report and, according to environmental groups that filed a lawsuit in November, has tried to bury the Clinton report.

"This administration has denied and suppressed the science of global warming at every turn," said Brendan Cummings, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

I suppose that we can take some small comfort from all this: The Bush administration has established, once and for all, that rule by the conservative movement is nothing short of catastrophic to the national well-being. By 2008, it's going to be important that the voters have this knowledge embedded -- and it always helps when they're so flagrant about it.

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