Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Interior admits MacDonald meddled with science

Interior remains troubled under Sec. Kempthorne

UPDATE, 11/28: Congressman Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ7) said today:

“I am glad to hear that the Interior Department has come clean on the inappropriate and illegal decision-making which occurred during the tenure of a former political appointee, Julie McDonald. It is no surprise that the Department has found at least seven more cases where decisions were made not based on science, but based instead on political influence and a philosophical opposition to protection of imperiled species. Like a modern-day James Watt, Julie McDonald made decisions for the benefit of industry, ignoring federal law and basic decency in the process.

“This announcement, however, continues to raise questions about any and all decisions made during her tenure, as Ms. McDonald could have been involved in many more decisions, using subtle forms of influence and without leaving behind a paper trail.

“In addition, I have no doubt that this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to inappropriate manipulation of the decision-making process across federal agencies by this anti-environmental Administration. When one looks at the many resignations of federal employees who left their jobs because of political influence or were forced out for speaking the truth, this kind of behavior is no doubt rampant.

“As Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, I will continue to join with my colleagues on the Natural Resources Committee to investigate inappropriate and illegal decisions affecting our nation’s lands, waters, and other natural resources.”


TUCSON -- More news from Washington today on an issue I've worked a lot on, Bush/Cheney administration hostility to science and conservation.

In response to months of allegations about political tinkering within its own ranks and demands for reviews by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), the US Department of the Interior today conceded that seven out of eight decisions made during the tenure of Bush political appointee Julie MacDonald, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, warrant revision.

"Julie MacDonald, who was a civil engineer by training, should never have been allowed near the endangered species program. This announcement is the latest illustration of the depth of incompetence at the highest levels of management within the Interior Department and breadth of this Administration's penchant for torpedoing science. Today we hear that seven out of eight decisions she made need to be scrapped, causing us once again to question the integrity of the entire program under her watch," Rahall said.

Rahall has repeatedly pressed the agency to review possible political tampering within its ranks. A May 9 oversight hearing, called in the aftermath of a scathing Inspector General report, examined MacDonald's role in politicizing the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Following up, Rahall sent two letters, dated May 17 and June 20, to Interior's Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett, requesting a departmental review of a number of ESA listing decisions made during MacDonald's service.

The latest announcement outlines seven specific ESA decisions that Interior has determined were "inappropriately influenced" by MacDonald. The Fish and Wildlife Service had announced on July 20 that it intended to review eight ESA decisions where it appeared that MacDonald had played a significant role in asserting her own political interests to overrule scientific decisions on endangered species recovery.

"Julie MacDonald's dubious leadership and waste of taxpayer dollars will now force the agency to divert precious time, attention, and resources to go back and see that the work is done in a reliable and untainted manner. The agency turned a blind eye to her actions - the repercussions of which will not only hurt American taxpayers, but could also imperil the future of the very creatures that the endangered species program intends to protect," Rahall said.

MacDonald may be gone, but she has not been held accountable for her crimes, and there are no solid signs Bush Interior is changing its anti-science ways.

"We are heartened to hear that the Canadian lynx, the California red-legged frog, the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse and other species on the brink of extinction may finally receive the protections they urgently need. However, this should be the first step in a complete investigation into the Bush Administration's corruption and political manipulation of decisions affecting our nation’s endangered species," said Leda Huta of the Endangered Species Coalition.

Huta adds, "This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of endangered species protections that have been weakened by political manipulations. The depth of the Bush Administration’s corruption and suppression of science has not yet been fully uncovered."

- adapted from HNRC

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