Endangered Species Act Changes Give Agencies More Say
The Bush administration yesterday proposed a regulatory overhaul of the Endangered Species Act to allow federal agencies to decide whether protected species would be imperiled by agency projects, eliminating the independent scientific reviews that have been required for more than three decades.
The new rules, which will be subject to a 30-day per comment period, would use administrative powers to make broad changes in the law that Congress has resisted for years. Under current law, agencies must subject any plans that potentially affect endangered animals and plants to an independent review by the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Under the proposed new rules, dam and highway construction and other federal projects could proceed without delay if the agency in charge decides they would not harm vulnerable species.
In a telephone call with reporters yesterday, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne described the new rules as a "narrow regulatory change" that "will provide clarity and certainty to the consultation process under the Endangered Species Act."
But environmentalists and congressional Democrats blasted the proposal as a last-minute attempt by the administration to bring about dramatic changes in the law. For more than a decade, congressional Republicans have been trying unsuccessfully to rewrite the act, which property owners and developers say imposes unreasonable economic costs...
The new rules would also limit the impact of the administration's decision in May to list the polar bear as threatened with extinction because of shrinking sea ice.
At the time of that decision, Kempthorne said he would seek changes to the Endangered Species Act on the grounds that it was inflexible, adding that it had not been significantly modified since 1986. In a statement yesterday, the Interior Department declared that even if a federal action such as the permitting of a power plant would lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions, the decision would not trigger a federal review "because it is not possible to link the emissions to impacts on specific listed species such as polar bears."
Kempthorne said the new regulations included that language "so we don't inadvertently have the Endangered Species Act seen as a back door to climate-change policy that was never, ever intended."....