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Senate blocks effort to derail endangered species protections

March 5, 2009 |  6:38 pm

Polar_bears Alaskan senators' effort to block a Democratic push to undo a Bush-era weakening of the Endangered Species Act failed in the Senate on Thursday.

On Tuesday, President Obama restored some of the protections for endangered species that the Bush administration stripped in December, requiring that federal agencies consult with experts before starting construction projects that could threaten endangered species. Before the Bush rule change, federal agencies had been required for 30 years to consult with biologists first.

Tuesday's move was made in a provision to the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill that would allow the White House to withdraw two Bush-era Endangered Species Act rules within 60 days without going through a public comment period. The rules in question: one that scaled back safeguards for endangered species and another that limited protections for the polar bear specifically.

Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Mark Begich (D) proposed an amendment specifying that if the current administration were to pull the rules, the action would be subject to the 60-day period. That amendment was voted down in the Senate on Thursday, 52 to 42.

"By rejecting Sen. Murkowski's amendment to undermine protection for polar bears and other threatened and endangered species, the Senate capped off a good week for protecting our endangered wildlife," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group.

Begich said in a previous statement that removing the standard 60-day period "allows the secretaries to make dramatic changes in rules and regulations without having to comply with multiple, long-standing federal laws that require public notice and public comment by the American people and knowledgeable scientists."

--Catherine Ho

Photo: Polar bears are considered a vulnerable species. Credit: Paul J. Richards / AFP/Getty Images

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