Changes to Species Act Are Said to Be Near

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Bush administration is "close" to finalizing a regulatory overhaul of the Endangered Species Act to allow federal agencies to decide whether protected species would be harmed by agency projects, according to the Interior Department.

In an interview yesterday, Interior spokeswoman Tina Kreisher said the Office of Management and Budget was reviewing the rule, which could be finalized in a matter of weeks.

"I believe that we're close, but there's no final determination from the OMB," she said.

For more than 30 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service have reviewed any federal plans that could potentially protect endangered animals or plants. Under the administration's proposed rule, these independent scientific reviews would no longer be required if the agency in question determined that its activities would not hurt the imperiled species.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne introduced the rules change in August, angering environmentalists who warned that the shift could undermine critical safeguards for vulnerable plants and animals.

-- Juliet Eilperin

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