Obama Administration to Withdraw Bush Rule on Endangered Species

The Obama administration will withdraw a Bush-era regulation designed to undermine the Endangered Species Act, specifically, the role of science in protecting species. The departments of Commerce and the Interior, the agencies responsible for issuing the regulation in December 2008, announced the withdrawal today in a press release.

The Bush rule allows agencies to bypass expert scientific review for development projects. So, federal land-use managers could approve projects like infrastructure creation, minerals extraction, or logging without consulting habitat managers and biological health experts responsible for endangered species protection. Previously, consultation had been required. Now, consultation is at the discretion of the agencies that make decisions on development.

Another provision in the rule prohibits climate change from being considered as a factor in species protection decisions. That provision was added at the last minute and was not subject to public comment.

"Our decision affirms the Administration’s commitment to using sound science to promote conservation and protect the environment," said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. Yesterday, more than 1,300 scientists signed a letter to the Obama administration urging it to show its commitment to scientific integrity by withdrawing the rule.

The announcement comes just a day after Interior announced it would try to repeal a rule that allowed the mining companies to dump into streams the waste generated during mountaintop mining, another of President Bush’s midnight regulations.

President Obama had instructed Interior and Commerce to review the Bush rule and “determine whether to undertake new rulemaking procedures.” In the interim, Obama instructed land use managers to exercise their discretion in favor of continuing scientific review.

The endangered species rule was one of the most hurried and controversial of the Bush administration’s many midnight regulations. About 235,000 comments were submitted on the proposed rule, but agency officials pressured staff to review all the comments in just one week. (One calculation estimated the staff assigned to reviewing comments would have to review seven comments per minute.)

The withdrawal of the Bush rule won’t be official until Interior and Commerce publish something formal in the Federal Register. Currently, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is reviewing the withdrawal notice.

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