Endangered ESA law

In what would be the biggest overhaul to the Endangered Species Act in 22 years, the Bush Administration has proposed major changes to the act. Federal agencies basically would be able to determine for themselves whether construction projects such as highways, dams, mines and others are a risk to endangered animals or plants. An editorial in the Los Angeles Times likened it to allowing oil companies to decide whether offshore drilling harms the ocean or a pharmaceutical company deciding if a drug it’s marketing is safe.

Federal agencies would also be barred from assessing the impacts on endangered species of greenhouse gas emissions produced by such projects.

Currently, the 1973 act requires federal agencies to consult with experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service if a project poses the slightest risk to species or habitats. If accepted, the draft regulation changes would eliminate the input of independent scientists and effectively end some environmental reviews, therefore speeding up and reducing the costs of federal projects that have been delayed. The Associated Press reports that Sen. Barbara Boxer has called the proposed changes illegal.

The proposed rules, which don’t require Congress’s approval, were entered into the federal register on Aug. 14 and are subject to a 30-day public comment period—not the usual 60 or 90 days—before being finalized by the Department of the Interior. If passed, there are two time-consuming options that potentially could undo them: A new administration could freeze or reverse any pending regulations, or Congress could overturn the rules through legislation.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, an average of 9.5 species have been added each year to the U.S. endangered species list under George W. Bush, compared with an average of 65 per year during the Clinton administration and 59 during the George H.W. Bush administration.

The proposed changes draft document can be found here: www.doi.gov/news/08_News_Releases/AT50PR2008_08_13_FR.pdf.

The public can comment at www.regulations.gov.