Feds Allow More Comment Time on Endangered Species Change

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    NEWSLETTERS

    WASHINGTON, DC, September 11, 2008 (ENS) - Today, the Bush administration announced that it will extend the comment period on a proposed rule that conservationists claim would weaken the Endangered Species Act.

    Last month, more than 100 citizens groups asked the administration for adequate time to respond to the proposal that would remove the requirement that federal agencies consult with wildlife experts before undertaking activities that might jeopardize the survival of species listed as endangered or threatened under the act.

    The proposed regulatory changes were published in the Federal Register August 15, while Congress was out for recess and many Americans were on summer holiday.

    The administration initially announced a 30 day public comment period but has now extended it for another 30 days, until October 15. The citizens groups had sought a 120 day comment period and a series of public field hearings.

    The administration still refuses to accept e-mail or faxed comments or hold public hearings on the proposed rule. Instead, comments will be accepted only by mail, or through a government website that warns commenters their personal information will be posted on the Internet in a file open to the public.

    The rule is one in a series of proposed regulatory changes to the Endangered Species Act released by the Bush administration in the past several months that conservationists have labeled the "Bush Extinction Plan." The administration also has proposed rules that would make changes in the way endangered species are listed and the way their habitat is protected.

    "We welcome the additional time to oppose the Bush Extinction Plan and demonstrate the vast public support for the Endangered Species Act," said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition.

    "The American public will not stand for such an underhanded attempt by this lame duck administration to weaken protections for our nation's wildlife and wild lands," she said.

    "The existing regulations create unnecessary conflicts and delays," said U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, announcing the proposed rule in August. He told reporters the proposal aims to bring the Endangered Species Act "into the 21st century."

    Under the proposed revisions, federal agencies would be permitted to bypass the consultation process if they believe their actions would cause little harm to listed species. If an agency chooses to skip consultation, it would be responsible for any subsequent harm caused to the species in question.

    "The proposed regulations will continue to protect species while focusing the consultation process on those federal actions where potential impacts can be linked to the action and the risks are reasonably certain to occur," Kempthorne said. "The result should be a process that is less time-consuming and a more effective use of our resources."

    "The Bush administration is attempting a last minute giveaway to their friends in the oil, mining, logging and development industries," said Huta. "The proposed regulatory changes came out in the 11th hour of the Bush administration. They are trying every trick in the book to rewrite bedrock environmental protections."

    Last month, 105 conservation and scientific organizations representing millions of Americans submitted a letter to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez calling for increased transparency and opportunities for public participation on the new proposal.

    Organized by the Endangered Species Coalition, the letter urged the administration to allow the public adequate time to address the breadth and depth that these changes would have on protecting imperiled wildlife.

    "The Endangered Species Act is a safety net for our nation's wildlife, fish and plants on the brink of extinction," said Jon Hunter, policy director of the Endangered Species Coalition. "The Bush administration's proposed regulations will cut a giant loophole in the safety net."

    To read a copy of the proposal, entitled "Interagency Cooperation Under the Endangered Species Act" and submit a comment, click here.

    Another rule change proposed by the Bush administration in August narrowly defines the geographic area where a species is listed for purposes of the Act. This change could be interpreted to limit protection of endangered species to their current range, not their historic range.

    If a species is doing well in one small area but is extinct in the rest of its range, it could be denied listing under the act, conservation groups say, while at the same time, pests, disease, or habitat destruction could quickly wipe out a small remaining population.

    This proposed rule change, entitled "Amending the Formats of the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants," was published in the Federal Register on August 5, where comment instructions are given. Public comments are due by September 4, and again, e-mail and faxes will not be accepted.

    {Photo: This lynx photographed in the Vermont woods is federally listed as a threatened species and listed by Vermont as endangered.(Photo courtesy Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department)

    Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.