The Interior Department on Thursday announced a rule that has largely freed federal agencies from their obligation to consult independent wildlife biologists before they build dams or highways or permit construction of transmission towers, housing developments or other projects that might harm federally protected wildlife. The rule, quickly challenged by environmental groups, lets the Army Corps of Engineers or the Federal Highway Administration in many cases rely on their own personnel in deciding what impact a project would have on a fish, bird, plant, animal or insect protected under the Endangered Species Act.
In announcing the rule, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said his main intention was to ensure that the 1972 law was not used as a "back door" means of regulating the emission of the gases that accelerate climate change. Without this rule, Mr. Kempthorne said, his decision last summer to list the polar bear as threatened because of the loss of sea ice caused by the warming of the climate could be used to block projects far from the bear's Arctic habitat.
"The Endangered Species Act was never intended to be a back door opportunity for climate change policy," he said.
Legal experts said the change seemed intended to ensure that the protection of species like the polar bear would not impede development of coal-fired power plants or other federal actions that increased emissions of heat-trapping gases. The Endangered Species Act, a complicated law with numerous procedural requirements, has long infuriated business interests and property rights advocates. But the law's broad sweep, and its impact on a range of issues like hydroelectric power and logging, has largely been supported by federal courts.
Full Story: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/12/science/earth/12