This vote was on an amendment by Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that would preserve a public comment period for proposed changes under the Endangered Species Act. The amendment would specifically target changes on protections for polar bears and regulating carbon dioxide. The amendment also would preserve judicial review of new regulations for those particular sections of the Endangered Species Act. The amendment was offered to the bill that funds most domestic agencies in fiscal 2009.
Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said this amendment, while seemingly innocuous, would in fact weaken protections for polar bears. Feinstein said Murkowski’s amendment would have the effect of preventing President Obama from immediately undoing two rules issued by the Bush administration as President Bush left office. The first rule denies Endangered Species Act protections to the polar bear, and the other excludes independent wildlife experts from providing input into decision making processes related to the Endangered Species Act.
“The bill, as currently written, allows the Obama administration to quickly undo the Bush rule and return independent wildlife experts to this consultation process,” Feinstein said. “The amendment offered by Senator Murkowski would further prolong these two Bush administration rules and require a public comment period of 60 days before the Bush rules can be lifted. I cannot support that.”
Murkowski said it is important to respect the processes already set up, and that Congress should let the government complete its business.
“I ask Members of this body to vote in favor of my amendment to maintain this public process. That is what this amendment does. We owe it to ourselves to keep the integrity of the process intact. It is a dangerous precedent for this body to set. I ask Members to look very carefully at this amendment and truly attempt to understand the full implications if we are not successful in removing this rider from the bill,” Murkowski said.
By a vote of 42-52, the amendment was rejected. Every Republican present voted for the amendment. All but three Democrats present voted against the bill. The end result is that the Senate defeated an amendment that would have prevented the administration from immediately rolling back two Bush-era rules that weaken environmental protections for polar bears.