Obama appointees revoke Bush Endangered Species Act rule

The secretaries of Commerce and Interior announced April 28 their departments are revoking a rule issued in the final days of the Bush administration that they said undermined Endangered Species Act protections.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said federal agencies once again must consult federal wildlife experts at Commerce’s NOAA Fisheries and Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before taking any action that could affect threatened or endangered species.

President Obama ordered the federal resource agencies in March to review ESA rules issued in the last days of the Bush administration. (HNN 3/4/09) Obama issued that order with the idea of rolling back provisions that streamline ESA consultation with wildlife agencies on proposed actions considered unlikely to jeopardize protected species.

�For decades, the Endangered Species Act has protected threatened species and their habitats,� Locke said. �Our decision affirms the administration’s commitment to using sound science to promote conservation and protect the environment.�

Salazar added, �By rolling back this 11th hour regulation, we are ensuring that threatened and endangered species continue to receive the full protection of the law. Because science must serve as the foundation for decisions we make, federal agencies proposing to take actions that might affect threatened or endangered species will once again have to consult with biologists at the two departments.�

Locke and Salazar said the two departments would conduct a joint review of the 1986 consultation regulations to determine if improvements should be proposed.

The final rule being revoked would have let federal action agencies such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission determine whether federal actions are likely to jeopardize protected species, in some cases without the need to consult federal resource agencies.

Under the Bush regulations, federal agencies still had to follow most existing consultation procedures. However, exceptions were permitted in specific instances where an action was not anticipated to adversely affect any member of a listed species and the action fulfilled one of the following criteria:
o Where the action has no effect on a listed species or critical habitat;
o Where the action is wholly beneficial;
o Where the effects of the action cannot be measured or detected in a manner that permits meaningful evaluation using the best available science; or
o Where the effects of the action are the result of global processes and cannot be reliably predicted or measured on the scale of species current range, or would result in insignificant impact to a listed species, or are such that the potential risk of harm to a species is remote.

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