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Oversight Yields Results, Interior Department Re-opens Cases

Posted on by Jesse Lee

Endangered species decisions re-examined
John Heilprin, Associated Press – July 19, 2007

The director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may keep a rare jumping mouse in the Rocky Mountains on the endangered species list after all.

The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, the Southwestern willow flycatcher and several other species vying for survival could get a new lease on life from the agency, whose director, H. Dale Hall, is reviewing decisions affecting them, The Associated Press has learned.

They are among the plants and animals affected by up to 10 decisions involving former Interior Department official Julie MacDonald that might be reversed or modified, a government official said Thursday night, speaking on condition of anonymity because a decision had not yet been made.

MacDonald resigned in May as deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks after the department’s inspector general found that she had broken federal rules and should be punished for bullying federal scientists and improperly leaking information about endangered species to private groups.

That decision has now been announced. The Resources Committee welcomes the decision, and also notes that oversight efforts will continue with a hearing (previously discussed here) regarding Vice President Cheney’s intervention in the Klamath River and in which he has been invited to testify:

Rahall: Interior 'Fesses Up on Politics Trumping Science

Washington, D.C. — In light of ongoing controversy over the Department of the Interior's (DOI) handling of the endangered species program, U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, today expressed cautious optimism that the agency is taking the first steps in owning up to an apparent pattern of political meddling in its scientific decision-making.

“I am heartened to hear that the Department of the Interior is stepping up to the plate to begin addressing the 'politics trumps science' ploy endemic throughout this Administration,” Rahall said. “While this is positive movement, it is just a start. What we have learned to date raises concerns about political tinkering with science that has affected many endangered species-related decisions — and goodness knows what else — that deserve further scrutiny.”

Rahall has repeatedly pressed the agency to review possible political tampering within its ranks. Following up to a May 9 oversight hearing that examined MacDonald's role in politicizing the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Rahall sent two letters, dated May 17 and June 20, to DOI's Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett, requesting a departmental review of a number of ESA listing decisions made during MacDonald's service.

A May 21 letter sent by Rahall and Rep. George Miller (D-CA), a senior Member of the Committee, to Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, called for a full accounting of MacDonald's role in the removal of the Sacramento Splittail from the endangered species list. Rahall and Miller sent another letter on July 18 to Scarlett, reiterating this request, after the Department failed to respond to the lawmakers' repeated requests.

The announcement, made today by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall, outlines the Department's intention to reopen specific cases in which Interior's Inspector General found Julie MacDonald, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, had played a significant role in asserting her own political interests to overrule scientific decisions on endangered species recovery.

The announcement comes nearly two weeks before a previously scheduled July 31 oversight hearing designed to continue the Committee's efforts to examine the causes and consequences of political intervention in the decision-making process at the Interior Department. The hearing was organized in response to a recent report in The Washington Post that revealed Vice President Dick Cheney also had a hand in influencing scientific and policy decisions at the agency. The Post article directly linked Cheney's intervention to the 2002 die-off of over 70,000 salmon in the Klamath River Basin.

Secretary Kempthorne is among those invited to testify at the hearing on July 31.

“For too long, political appointees at the Interior Department have demonstrated a complete disregard for scientists and their work — and it is time to put the cuffs on this behavior,” Rahall said. “I look forward to hearing from Secretary Kempthorne and other senior political appointees at Interior on just what they are doing to get a handle on this flagrant abuse of the Endangered Species Act. Clearly, the faults run much deeper than one person, and my committee will continue to press the agency until we see some real changes in the way the law is carried out.”

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