House committee hearing July 31 on Administration politicization of Endangered Species Act science


The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on July 31 on “Crisis Of Confidence: The Political Influence of The Bush Administration on Agency Science and Decision-Making.” According to a press release from committee Chairman Joe Nick Rahall (D-WV), the hearing was organized in response to a recent report in the Washington Post that revealed how Vice President Cheney’s manipulation in 2002 of the use of science in Interior Department decisionmaking led to the die-off of more than 70,000 salmon in the Klamath River Basin, said to be the worst fish kill on record in the western United States. 

The hearing will be held on Tuesday, July 31, 2007, at 10:00:00 a.m., in Room 1324 Longworth House Office Building. See below for witness list.

From a July 20 committee press release:

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.”

…“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.

On Vice-President Cheney’s role in undermining the integrity of how environmental science is used in policymaking, see, for example the final article in the Washington Post’s June 2007 series “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.”  An excerpt:

Leaving No Tracks

By Jo Becker and Barton Gellman
Washington Post
Wednesday, June 27, 2007; Page A01

In Oregon, a battleground state that the Bush-Cheney ticket had lost by less than half of 1 percent, drought-stricken farmers and ranchers were about to be cut off from the irrigation water that kept their cropland and pastures green. Federal biologists said the Endangered Species Act left the government no choice: The survival of two imperiled species of fish was at stake.

Law and science seemed to be on the side of the fish. Then the vice president stepped in.

First Cheney looked for a way around the law, aides said. Next he set in motion a process to challenge the science protecting the fish, according to a former Oregon congressman who lobbied for the farmers.

Because of Cheney’s intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.

Characteristically, Cheney left no tracks.

The Klamath case is one of many in which the vice president took on a decisive role to undercut long-standing environmental regulations for the benefit of business.

By combining unwavering ideological positions—such as the priority of economic interests over protected fish—with a deep practical knowledge of the federal bureaucracy, Cheney has made an indelible mark on the administration’s approach to everything from air and water quality to the preservation of national parks and forests….

Hearing Witnesses

Panel 1

Mary Kendall, Deputy Inspector General, U.S. Department of the Interior
John M. Seeba, Assistant Inspector General for Auditing, U.S. Department of Commerce

Panel 2

H. Dale Hall, Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), U.S. Department of the Interior
* Accompanied by Steve Thompson, Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Robert W. Johnson, Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation

William Hogarth, Assistant Administrator, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce
* Accompanied by Rod McInnis, Acting Regional Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service Southwest Region

Panel 3

William M. Lewis, Jr., Associate Director, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
Mike Kelly, Former USFWS and NOAA Fisheries Biologist


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