An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Stealth regulation

In the 90s I first learned of the tactic of "stealth legislation:" Legislation that the general public does not know about and Congress would like to keep it that way. When last I actively tracked this tactic I found changes to bankruptcy law, attempts to link clear-cutting forests to school funding and John McCain repeatedly trying to slip internet censorship into various funding bills.

Now found a major bit of stealth regulation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency attempted to keep a draft of the proposed destruction of the Endangered Species Act secret but someone leaked a copy. Although regulations, in theory must have a public review (meaning they can't keep it a secret forever) an Agency can stage a press conference without releasing the proposal far enough in advance to allow for anyone to mobilize against the proposed changes until after the PR battle has already started. This is not democracy.

Here are some highlights from
Inside the secretive plan to gut the Endangered Species Act

The proposed changes limit the number of species that can be protected and curtail the acres of wildlife habitat to be preserved. It shifts authority to enforce the act from the federal government to the states, and it dilutes legal barriers that protect habitat from sprawl, logging or mining.

In recent months, the Fish and Wildlife Service has gone to extraordinary efforts to keep drafts of regulatory changes from the public. All copies of the working document were given a number corresponding to a person, so that leaked copies could be traced to that individual. An e-mail sent in March from an assistant regional director at the Fish and Wildlife Service to agency staff, asking for comments on and corrections to the first draft, underscored the concern with secrecy: "Please Keep close hold for now. Dale [Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] does not want this stuff leaking out to stir up discontent based on speculation."

Administration critics characterize the secrecy as a way to maintain spin control, says Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental group. "This administration will often release a 300-page-long document at a press conference for a newspaper story that will go to press in two hours, giving the media or public no opportunity to digest it and figure out what's going on," Suckling says. "[Interior Secretary Dirk] Kempthorne will give a feel-good quote about how the new regulations are good for the environment, and they can win the public relations war."

Call or write your Representatives and Senators now. And the full article is worth reading. Salon makes you sit through an ad (sorry) in order to read the full text without a subscription.

Also, if anyone knows of any mainstream news outlet reporting on this please put that information in a comment on this post!

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