Endangered Species Act: Chrysler, Ford, GM

This week the Bush administration pushed through a number of midnight regulations, including an alteration to the Endangered Species Act. The new regulations allow agencies to determine whether their infrastructure projects, such as roads or dams, would significantly affect endangered species. Currently new projects are subject to review by independent scientists, but developers have complained that this oversight wastes time. Not surprisingly, President Bush is once again privileging short sighted capitalistic gains over long term measures to protect our national and global interests.

The Bush administration's alteration does include a provision requiring agencies that miscalculate and do harm species to pay for the damage they have caused. However, no explanation for how the costs would be calculated has been offered. In addition, it is difficult to imagine what an agency will be able to do to revive a species once they have brought about its extinction.

In 2006 the Bush administration announced that polar bears would be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Their habitat has been severely compromised by rising global temperatures. The U.S. government's acknowledgment that climate change threatened a species' survival introduced the possibility that steps would have to be taken to reduce carbon emissions in order to maintain compliance with the law.

Due to deliberate steps taken by the Bush administration as well as congress, no intervention of significance has occurred. The Environmental Protection Agency recently struck down California's attempt to regulate car emission and fuel efficiency standards in what was seen as a gift to the auto industry. Twelve states had adopted California's policies, or planned to, when the federal government denied states their right to protect their air.

Now the three American automakers that received Bush's blessings are about to go extinct. Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors have failed to adjust to the modern demands of the auto industry. They have spent their money lobbying against regulation standards and as a result Japanese cars are far more popular in the U.S. due to their fuel-efficiency. Having identified this disparity as a major stumbling block for the failing industry, last year's Energy Bill earmarked $25 billion in loans to the auto industry specifically aimed at increasing fuel-efficiency. Now there are proposals, mostly from Republicans, to use this money to fund a bailout, rather than accessing funds through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (the $700 billion pot of money meant to prevent an economic meltdown).

While the question of whether or not to provide a bailout for the industry is a complicated one, the question of where bailout money should come from is not. We are staring a grim reality in the face. Capitalism cannot flourish when it is divorced from intelligent deliberation and recognition that with only one habitable planet, our resources are finite. At some point we need to grow up and realize that investing long term is the only way to ensure our country's security. Liquidating what little money we have set aside for updating our energy infrastructure is not the answer. Destroying the habitats and species that the health of the world depends on is not the answer. Preventing states from enacting their own regulations to curb climate change is not the answer. A fundamental shift in our thinking that finally conceptualizes sustainability as capitalism's one prayer for survival is our only hope.

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