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California sues Bush administration to protect endangered species

California this week sued the feds to block a new Bush administration rule from taking effect that would relax portions of the Endangered Species Act.

The rule, finalized December 16, permits the Commerce and Interior departments to sign off on new projects that may threaten wildlife and their habitat without input from independent scientists that is now required. The new measure, set to take effect hours before President-elect Barack Obama is sworn into office Jan. 20, also allows regulators to ignore the effects on wildlife of potential greenhouse-gas emissions from those projects.

"The Bush administration is seeking to gut the Endangered Species Act on its way out the door," California Attorney General Jerry Brown said in a statement after the state filed the lawsuit Monday in Northern California Federal District Court in Oakland.

Conservation groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation and the Center for Biological Diversity, have also sued, but it's unusual for a state to make the same move. An aide said earlier this month that Obama "will review all [Bush admnistration] eleventh-hour regulations and will address them once he is president."

Ken Alex, California's senior assistant attorney general, told the Los Angeles Times that the new rules would drive up the cost of protecting California's own species by removing the federal protections.

"These regulations are illegal," Alex told the newspaper.

Tina Kreisher, a spokesperson for the Department of the Interior, refused to comment in on an ongoing legal case. Spokespersons for the Commerce Department and National Marine Fisheries Service, which are also named in the suit, did not return calls for comment.

The rule is one of a series of so-called midnight regulations that the Bush administration issued in its waning days. Among the other controversial ones: a "right of conscience" clause that bars health care facilities from receiving federal funds if they fail to honor the rights of employees to refuse to provide services they oppose, such as abortion and emergency contraception.

Flag of the Republic of California via Wikimedia Commons

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