Scientists, Conservationists Cheer Obama at Interior Dept.

By Chris Good

The march away from Bush continues today as President Obama issued a memorandum canceling (pending further review) a Bush edict pertaining to the Endangered Species Act, and evidently some Interior Department employees were happy enough to cheer about it.

In brief remarks at the Interior Department today, Obama said his intention was to "help restore the scientific process to its rightful place at the heart of the Endangered Species Act, a process undermined by past administrations" by reinstating Interior Dept. reviews of new federal construction projects to study potential impact on endangered species, pending further review of the policy.

"In the past, as all of you know, we've seen lapses that have damaged the reputation of this department, despite the integrity and faithful service of the vast majority of people who work here.  In just these first five weeks, Secretary Salazar has helped bring about a new era of responsibility and accountability," Obama said, alluding to the department's 2008 ethics scandal that included allegations of financial improprieties, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct.

According to a pool report from the Baltimore Sun's Paul West, Obama's announcement "garnered loud applause" from the Interior Department employees, an observation confirmed by two others who were there.

"He spoke to the importance of science in decision making processes, and this department has a proud history and tradition of scientific research and contribution," Interior spokesman Matt Lee Ashley told me when I asked him about the applause.

One attendee speculated that many in the audience were either scientists or conservationists, happy about both Obama's comments on science and his rededication to endangered species review. (Of course, the department also stands to gain power over as those reviews are reinstated).

Democrats and other critics have charged that the Bush administration censored the work of climate scientists--charges that have led Obama to include pro-science rhetoric in a number of his speeches.

Looks like that rhetoric is catching on with some of his new employees.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2009/03/scientists-conservationists-cheer-obama-at-interior-dept/1180/