Tuesday, March 03, 2009

ENV: OES Salvation

Sources: Obama to shelve Bush species rule
Critics say rule weakened protections for endangered animals, plants
msnbc.com staff and news service reports, updated 10:35 a.m. CT, Tues., March. 3, 2009

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama was set to make a speech Tuesday at the Interior Department, where sources said he would shelve a Bush-era rule that critics say weakened protections for threatened and endangered species.

In December, the Bush administration finalized regulations that allow agencies to decide for themselves whether highways, dams, mines and other construction projects might harm animals and plants listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The Bush-era rule reduces the mandatory, independent reviews government scientists have performed for 35 years. It also prohibits federal agencies from assessing a project's contribution to global warming when they evaluate its effect on species.

The Bush administration argued its rule would streamline development requests without harming wildlife.

Presidential memo expected
Administration sources said Obama will sign a presidential memorandum to put on hold the regulation until the Interior and Commerce departments complete a review of it.

The officials sought anonymity because they did not want to get ahead of the president's announcement.

At least for now, the two agencies will resume full scientific reviews of projects that might harm endangered wildlife and plants.

A conservation group that had sued to overturn the Bush-era rule welcomed the news.

"Obama has swiftly delivered on his campaign promise to reverse Bush’s anti-endangered species regulations," Kieran Suckling, director of the Center for Biological Diversity, told msnbc.com. "He has restored independent, scientific oversight to the heart of the Endangered Species Act."

Congressional action
Democrats in Congress are attempting to reverse the rule via legislation. House Democrats wrote a provision into a spending bill that passed last month, leading Republicans to cry foul.

"This is a backdoor maneuver to create vast new climate change powers without any public comment or involvement of the American people," said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Washington, ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

The Senate has yet to act on the issue.

Since taking office six weeks ago, Obama has directed his Cabinet to reverse or review four Bush-era environmental and energy rules. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has shelved drilling plans off the East and West coasts, as well as on federal land in Utah. He also shelved a plan to open up areas to oil-shale development. Those plans will be reviewed, he said.

And Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, last month agreed to review whether it should regulate carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, portending a major reversal of the Bush administration's policy on global warming.

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