Bush continues war on wildlife

Changes to Endangered Species Act announced that would make it easier for firms to gain approval for environmentally damaging developments

The Bush administration continued its last minute push to rush anti-environmental measures through last week, by publishing regulations that dramatically change the interpretation of the Endangered Species Act.

The Department of the Interior's (DoI) regulation rule 50 CR Part 402 on inter-agency co-operation under the endangered species act stops federal agencies having to consult with scientists to assess the global warming implications of a project. The changes will enable the implementation of thousands of projects that could further endanger species already near extinction, warned environmental groups - including projects from the private sector.

Section Seven of the Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to consult with scientists at the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service on projects that could adversely affect a species or its habitat. However, the regulation eliminates this requirement for actions that are "manifested through global processes".

"Any time a private project has to get a federal permit, it potentially could have to consult," said Noah Greenwald, science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Now in many cases, the federal agency that issues that permit will not have to consult on the effects to endangered species - it will lead to more habitat lost and more harm to endangered species."

A coalition of environmental groups immediately commenced legal action against the the DoI over the change to the regulation.

Because the regulation is not legislated by Congress, it could be easily overturned by the incoming Obama administration. Immediately following his election victory last month, a senior Barack Obama aide, John Podesta, said the president-elect would move to reverse any anti-environmental measures taken by the Bush administration that were deemed to be "not in the interest of the country".

However, the reversing the rule making process could take months, and environmental groups fear the Bush administration could create a window of opportunity for the implementation of carbon intensive or environmentally damaging projects that would then be far harder to roll back.

The Department of the Interior did not return calls last week.

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