Published October 27, 2008 11:03 AM

CO2 Emissions And Imperiled Species

IN THREE MEMOS released this month, the Environmental Protection Agency and two federal wildlife agencies contend that when making regulatory decisions they need not consider the climate-change impact on endangered species. Specifically, the memos address carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The memos support recent Bush Administration statements and proposed regulatory changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that would block the Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service from considering the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from a single large CO2 source on endangered species.

This is a sharp reversal for the wildlife agencies, says Kassie Siegel, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group. "Under ESA, agencies that approve large sources of greenhouse gas emissions must analyze the impact of these emissions just like they analyze anything else that impacts endangered species," she says.

The memos have limited regulatory authority, but they show that the three agencies will not consider the impact on species of CO2 emissions from several dozen coal-fired power plants being proposed across the U.S. In an Oct. 3 memo, EPA uses as a model its permitting decision for the proposed Desert Rock power plant in New Mexico, a huge 1,500-MW coal-fired power plant to be built on Navajo tribal land. In approving that project, EPA did not consider ESA, and primarily for that reason, the state, environmental groups, and Native American organizations are challenging the decision.

EPA argues that it is scientifically impossible to use modeling programs to determine the direct or indirect impacts of CO2 emissions from Desert Rock or other sources on a specific species or habitat. It then says the cumulative effects "are of no relevance" because impacts cannot be determined.

Within days of receiving EPA's memo, the two other agencies issued letters of agreement. Siegel points out, however, that only last year, the Fish & Wildlife Service noted in a letter to EPA that seven endangered species may be affected by the Desert Rock project and urged EPA to supply additional information.

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