WASHINGTON — Parts of the Endangered Species Act might soon be extinct.
The Bush administration wants federal agencies to decide for themselves whether highways, dams, mines and other construction projects might harm endangered animals and plants. New regulations, which don't require the approval of Congress, would reduce the mandatory, independent reviews government scientists have been performing for 35 years, according to a draft copy.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said late Monday the changes were needed to ensure that the Endangered Species Act would not be used as a ”back door“ to regulate gases blamed for global warming. In May, the polar bear became the first species declared as threatened because of climate change.
The draft rules would bar federal agencies from assessing the emissions from projects that contribute to global warming and its effect on species and habitats.
”We need to focus our efforts where they will do the most good,“ Kempthorne said in a news conference. ”It is important to use our time and resources to protect the most vulnerable species. It is not possible to draw a link between greenhouse gas emissions and distant observations of impacts on species.“
If approved, the changes would represent the biggest overhaul of the Endangered Species Act since 1986. They would accomplish through regulations what conservative Republicans have been unable to achieve in Congress: ending some environmental reviews that developers and other federal agencies blame for delays and cost increases on many projects.
The changes would apply to any project a federal agency would fund, build or authorize that might harm endangered wildlife and their habitat. Government wildlife experts currently perform tens of thousands of such reviews each year.
”If adopted, these changes would seriously weaken the safety net of habitat protections that we have relied upon to protect and recover endangered fish, wildlife and plants for the past 35 years,“ said John Kostyack, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Conservation and Global Warming initiative.