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Bush moves may endanger Endangered Species Act

The Bush Administration's push for "midnight regulations" in the last moments of office continues.

In the next 24 hours, the Bush is expected to relax requirements for federal environmental officials to sign off on building projects that pose a threat to species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Publishing the rules by tomorrow means they would take effect before President-elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration. Otherwise, Obama could simply decide not to put them into practice.

The rules would allow each federal agency to determine for itself whether its own projects (such as building a highway or dam) present an environmental threat, rather than getting clearance from wildlife biologists who sometimes order modifications, according to the Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the new watered-down regulations.

About one in 3,500 federal actions have been blocked since the ESA took effect in 1973. What's more: despite a requirement that a critical habitat (areas that can't be touched) be set aside for listed endangered species, only 160 of the 1,200 or so listed species actually has gotten one; they were held up mostly by lawsuits filed to block the set asides.

The softer Bush rules would also prohibit federal agencies from assessing the effects of global warming-linked emissions on wildlife in deciding whether to declare them endangered, the AP says.

The Department of the Interior is racing to finalize the rules, part of a series of “midnight regulations” the administration is rushing to push through in President Bush’s last days. In recent weeks, his team tried to remove gray wolves from the list of endangered species, and proposed loosening controls on factory farm waste and letting power plants operate near national parks as well as let mining companies remove mountaintops to get at coal underneath.

Obama campaigned on a green platform that included cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below that by 2050. He also said he wanted to promote clean technology in coal-producing regions. As it stands, the Bush administration has worked with companies to voluntarily bring so-called carbon intensity—the amount of greenhouse gases for every, say, widget produced—down by 18 percent by 2013, which would allow overall emissions to increase.

An Interior Department spokeswoman wouldn’t tell the AP whether the rule would be published by tomorrow.

Image by iStockphoto/Emrah Turudu

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