Endangered Species Rule Targeted in House Spending Bill

The House version of the FY 2009 omnibus appropriations bill, passed on Feb. 25, contains a provision that could reverse a Bush-era rule that weakened the Endangered Species Act. The regulation, published jointly Dec. 16 by the departments of Interior and Commerce and effective as of Jan. 15, was pilloried by environmentalists who say it will cut experts out of the process for listing species as endangered.

polar bearThe spending bill (H.R. 1105) gives new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the incoming Commerce Secretary the authority to withdraw the regulation, no questions asked. Under normal circumstances, an agency would have to undertake a brand new rulemaking in order to undo an old rule. The provision in the spending bill effectively removes that requirement by giving the secretaries unilateral authority to nullify the rule. Here is the text:

“SEC. 429. (a) During the 60-day period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act—
(1) the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce may withdraw or reissue the rule […] without regard to any provision of statute or regulation that establishes a requirement for such withdrawal;”

Lots of work remains if the rule is to be undone: The Senate will have to approve the provision too, and the secretaries will have to hold up their end of the bargain.

When the Bush administration proposed the rule in August 2008, it was met with jeers. The administration proposed allowing federal land-use managers to approve projects like infrastructure creation, minerals extraction, or logging without consulting federal habitat managers and biological health experts responsible for species protection. Consultation had been required.

When the administration published the final rule, not only did it eliminate the consultation requirement, it took a parting shot at efforts to protect species from the effects of climate change.

The final rule forbids global warming from being considered as a factor in species decisions. The provision was not included in the proposed rule, so the public could not comment on it.

Stay tuned for updates.

Image by flickr user ironmanixs, used under a Creative Commons license.

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