Obama Blocks Bush’s Endangered-Species Rule
By Stephen Power
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama blocked a Bush administration rule that environmentalists say would weaken protection for endangered species and their habitats, the latest in a series of moves that reverse Mr. Bush’s environmental policies.
Business groups criticized the Obama administration’s move and predicted it would delay projects funded by the government’s $787 billion stimulus package by forcing federal agencies to resume consultations over the potential impact of development projects on threatened species. The Bush administration rule was aimed at minimizing interagency debates over endangered species issues.
“Reinstating bureaucratic hurdles will only delay energy development and other construction projects which help create jobs,” said Keith McCoy, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers.
Mr. Obama on Tuesday signed a memorandum that effectively shelves the Bush move to streamline the process until officials at the Interior and Commerce departments finish a review.
At issue is a regulation issued by the Interior Department in December that allows federal agencies to bypass consultation with scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service about whether new projects will harm threatened wildlife. Traditionally, federal agencies across the government have been required to consult the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service whenever they are funding projects, such as new dams or highways, that could pose even a remote risk to a rare creature.
The Bush administration adopted the change in what it said was an effort to allow government biologists to focus on the most critical conservation efforts.
“Throughout our history, there’s been a tension between those who sought to conserve our natural resources for the benefit of future generations, and those who have sought to profit from these resources,” Mr. Obama said in announcing his action. “But I’m here to tell you this is a false choice. With smart, sustainable policies, we can grow our economy today, and preserve the environment for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.”
Mr. Obama’s decision marks the latest instance in which his administration has sought to block or reverse Bush-era rules affecting the environment. Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced he was putting the brakes on plans developed by the Bush administration to develop oil shale on federal land in Western states. Mr. Salazar also recently shelved a plan developed by the Bureau of Land Management during the Bush administration to lease wilderness areas of Utah for oil and gas drilling, saying the step was needed to protect the step was needed to protect “American iconic treasures.”