Obama has announced that he will reverse Bush's last minute changes to the Endangered Species Act. (Some readers may already have seen this news from Birdchick.) Last fall, the Interior Department issued new regulations that would allow other federal agencies to determine whether endangered species would be threatened by those agencies' actions, instead of having scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service make that judgment. These cases could potentially include everything from building new military bases to handing out drilling or mining leases, as well as indirect actions involving federal contracts. Allowing agencies that do not employ biologists to make those determinations would render the Endangered Species Act virtually meaningless.
Earthjustice lawyer Janette Brimmer, whose group had challenged the Bush rule in federal district court in California, said she expected that the new administration would reexamine two pending projects: a Bureau of Land Management plan for overseeing Oregon's forests, which was finalized on Dec. 30 and could affect protected species such as the northern spotted owl; and construction of the White Pine coal-fired power plant in Nevada.
Officials said the move is unlikely to trigger broad use of the Endangered Species Act to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. While the Bush rule specifically prohibited endangered species consultations on the basis of "global processes" such as climate change, an Interior official speaking on the condition of anonymity said that under the new policy, such a review would be triggered only if scientific evidence suggested "a causal connection" between emissions from a federal project and its effect on an imperiled species or an identifiable part of its habitat.