January 20, 2009

Bush on Livestock Grazing on Public Lands

Editor's Note: With the Bush Administration's remaining time in office now measured in hours, we asked CPR Member Scholars to remind us of some of the less publicized moments of the Administration's record on environmental issues. Following is the third of several entries that we'll run on CPRBlog before President Bush returns to Texas. Below, Joe Feller discusses Bush Administration regulations on livestock grazing on public lands.


In 2003, the Bush administration developed new proposed regulations to govern livestock grazing on over 150 million acres of federal public land, According to the administration, the new regulations were designed to "improve working relationships" between the government and ranchers and to "protect the health of rangelands." In fact, the new regulations would have repealed some important environmental standards and rendered others unenforceable, removed opportunities for public notice and input, slanted analyses and appeals procedures to favor ranchers over the environment, and made it easier for ranchers convicted of environmental crimes to obtain grazing permits. Career government scientists assigned to draft an environmental impact statement (EIS) on the new regulations wrote that the new regs "will have a slow, long-term adverse impact on wildlife and biological diversity in general," would "reduce the ability of environmental groups and organizations to participate and support wildlife" and "should result in long-term adverse impacts to wildlife and special status species on public lands."


Just three weeks before the proposed regulations were published, the Interior Department replaced the professionals who drafted the remarkably candid EIS with a specially selected team that undertook a rapid rewrite. The rewrite purged the document of all negative information. Two years later, the administration finalized the new rules, which were then promptly struck down by a federal court because they violated environmental laws.

Joe Feller, CPR Member Scholar; Professor of Law, Arizona State University College of Law. Bio.