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Are proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act illegal?

August 12, 2008 | 10:57 am

Bald_eagle_saved_by_endagered_speci The Bush administration wants to rewrite the Endangered Species Act to cut scientific review by independent experts out of the equation, a move that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is calling "illegal," the Associated Press is reporting. This marks the most sweeping change to the act since 1986, and relaxes protections, something conservative Republicans in Congress have failed to do despite years of trying.

Under current law, agencies must subject any plans that potentially affect endangered animals and plants to an independent review by scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Under the proposed new rules, dam and highway construction and other federal projects could proceed without delay if the agency in charge decides they would not harm vulnerable species.

That's right, the agencies in charge, which don't have biologists on staff, get decision-making power over their own projects. Environmentalists and Democrats are apoplectic. Here's the statement from Boxer on the rewrite:

... another in a continuing stream of proposals to repeal our landmark environmental laws through the back door. I believe it is illegal, and if this proposed regulation had been in place, it would have undermined our ability to protect the bald eagle, the grizzly bear, and the gray whale."

No vote is needed here, just a 30-day comment period and then the rules are in place. Of course the new administration could reverse the change, but that'll take months. Lots of points of view on this one. Here's the story (via WashPost) in The Times, in the Environmental News Service, and the original Associated Press story.

Why the photo of the bald eagle? If not for the Endangered Species Act, our national symbol would almost certainly be extinct.

-- Veronique de Turenne

Photo: Associated Press