Obama Restores Scientific Review to Endangered Species Act

President Obama issued a memorandum Tuesday requesting the heads of all federal agencies consult with scientists and other experts to determine if their actions could harm threatened and endangered species.

Consulting with experts at either the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was required by law under the Endangered Species Act until December, when the Bush Administration issued a midnight ruling allowing agencies to skip scientific review.

Obama’s memo doesn’t officially rescind Bush’s order; it asks the heads of the Commerce and Interior Departments to review the December ruling. Until that review is completed, Obama wants agency officials to return to the status quo ante-Bush in regard to the Endangered Species Act.

The best response to the memo came from Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who in a statement said, “Today proves that, under an Obama administration, scientists are no longer an endangered species. Thankfully, ESA in the Obama Administration now means we are ‘Ending the Scientific Aversion’ that characterized the Bush Administration’s tenure.”

I’m happy about the ruling, too, but I have to wonder: Why do Ken Salazar and the yet-to-be-confirmed Gary Locke need the time to review Bush’s rule? Why didn’t Obama just issue an executive order rescinding it? Last month’s omnibus spending bill required Obama to reissue or overturn the rule within 60 days, but this one’s a no-brainer; it doesn’t require review.