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White House removes protections for endangered species

With just over a month remaining in office, the Bush administration loosened federal protection of plant and animal species threatened with extinction.

By Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor / December 13, 2008

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With just over a month remaining in office, the Bush administration loosened federal protection of plant and animal species threatened with extinction.

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On Thursday, the Interior Department announced a change to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, which required federal agencies to consult with scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether a project is likely to affect any listed species.

Under the new rule, federal agencies such as the Federal Highway Administration can in many cases simply check with their own personnel to determine if their activities will harm any of the 1,247  animal and 747 plant species listed as endangered or threatened.

“The rule strengthens the regulations so the government can focus on protecting endangered species as it strives to rebuild the American economy,” said Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne.

It started with the polar bears

The rule change has its origins in a May announcement by the Interior Department that listed the polar bear as threatened because global warming is melting its habitat. It was the first animal to be listed because of climate change.

In that announcement, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said that even though global climate change is the reason that the bear is on the endangered species list in the first place, that list is "not the means, nor the method, nor the vehicle by which you can deal with global climate change.”

The Interior Department's press release cites a May editorial from the Washington Post that endorses this view:

That Mr. Kempthorne has to contort his agency to ensure that it doesn't get dragged into setting US climate policy is simply more proof of the need for such a policy, supported by the White House and ratified by Congress, that aims at sharply reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Though the polar bear deserves protection, the Endangered Species Act is not the means and the Fish and Wildlife Service is not the agency to arrest global warming.

The release quotes the second sentence of that paragraph.

So under the new rules, federal agencies that are undertaking a project need not check with Fish and Wildlife or National Marine Fisheries under these circumstances:

1. Where the action has no effect on a listed species or critical habitat, or
2. Where the action is wholly beneficial, or
3. Where the effects of the action can not be measured or detected in a manner that permits meaningful evaluation using the best available science, or
4. Where the effects of the action are the result of global processes and can not be reliably predicted or measured on the scale of species current range, or would result in an insignificant impact to a listed species, or are such that the potential risk of harm to a species is remote.

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