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Scientific review may now be endangered

August 12, 2008 | 12:14 pm

Bald_eagle_2

The Bush administration Monday proposed a regulatory overhaul of the Endangered Species Act that would allow federal agencies to decide on their own if their projects would affect animals protected by the act (such as the bald eagle, pictured above), the Washington Post reports.

The proposal's move to eliminate the independent scientific reviews that have been required for more than three decades has prompted sharp criticism from animal activists, scientists and politicans who have said the Bush administration and Republican establishment have wanted to go soft on the law.

The Post's Juliet Eilperin reports on the see-saw of reaction:

In a telephone call with reporters, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne described the rules as a "narrow regulatory change" that "will provide clarity and certainty to the consultation process under the Endangered Species Act."

But environmentalists and congressional Democrats blasted the proposal as a last-minute attempt by the administration to bring about dramatic changes in the law. For more than a decade, congressional Republicans have been trying unsuccessfully to rewrite the act, which property owners and developers say imposes unreasonable economic costs.

Bob Irvin, senior vice president of conservation programs at the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife, questioned how some federal agencies could make the assessments, when most do not have wildlife biologists on staff.

"Clearly, that's a case of asking the fox to guard the chicken coop," Irvin said, adding that the original law created "a giant caution light that made federal agencies stop and think about the impacts of their actions. What the Bush administration is telling those agencies is they don't have to think about those impacts anymore."

But Dale Hall, who directs the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the move would not apply to major federal projects and would give his agency more time to focus on the most critically endangered species, rather than conducting reviews of projects that pose little threat.

"We have to have the ability to put our efforts where they're needed," Hall said, adding that individual agencies will have to take responsibility if their projects do harm a protected species. "This really says to the agencies, 'This law belongs to all of us. You're responsible to defend it.' "

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Andrew Vaughan / Associated Press

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