Thursday, October 02, 2008

Candidates on the ESA: Obama

There are several recent comparisons of the candidates on environmental issues. For example, Michael Gerrard authored a recent ABA Natural Resources & Environment piece on the presidential candidates' stance on environmental issues. The online environmental news magazine Grist has a comparison of their farm & food policies. However, biodiversity & the ESA have received only passing attention, at best. So where do the candidates stand? I highlighted McCain's record last week. Now for Obama.

Compared with McCain, of course, Obama is a newcomer to the federal scene. Even though he served as a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, few Obama stances relevant to biodiversity conservation or the ESA have been reported. While the League of Conservation Voters gives him a lifetime voting record of 96 out of 100, his response to the LCV question "Do you support maintaining the strong protections of the Endangered Species Act, and do you think the Act is fundamentally sound?" was a simple "yes."

On the major ESA issue that has arisen this general campaign season, Obama's campaign opposes the proposed changes to ESA consultation regulations that could lower the bar for how federal agencies consider whether their actions affect listed species. However, Obama was not among the democratic Senators who authored a letter to Interior Secretary Kempthorne when the proposal was announced. On the other major ESA issue of the year -- the polar bear listing -- Obama did not elaborate his position (as Gov. Palin did ), but appears generally supportive. In response to a question regarding preservation of "wildlife" in the face of climate change, Obama responded: "I support maintaining the strong protections of the Endangered Species Act and think the Act is fundamentally sound."

Most recently, Obama advanced a clean-up plan for the Great Lakes (which, of course, border Illinois and possible swing states) that includes efforts to address invasive species, such as Asian carp.

The Obama website offers virtually no insight into his views on the ESA. Not suprisingly, it focuses heavily on energy issues.

Sierra Club supports Obama on ESA grounds, arguing that he is a better choice for biodiversity than McCain and that Obama will reduce political impediments to ESA listings.

On the whole, Obama's record and comments suggest that he generally supports biodiversity protection. Although it is not a prominent issue in his campaign, Obama would likely support making biodiversity law more effective if he wins next month.

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