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Biggest Change Proposed to Endangered Species Act Since '86

The Associated Press has reported on a draft proposal it obtained from the Interior Department that would preclude scientists and federal agencies from considering global warming as a threat to endangered species. The proposed changes would kick in for major construction projects which, currently, initiate a scientific review if an endangered species could be affected. From the AP report: "The proposed regulations, which do not require the approval of Congress, would reduce the mandatory, independent reviews that government scientists have been performing for 35 years. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said late Monday that the changes were needed to ensure that the Endangered Species Act not be used as a “back door” to regulate the heat-trapping gases linked to global warming. The draft rules would bar federal agencies from assessing the emissions from projects that contribute to global warming and their effect on species and habitats."The Interior Dept. organized a quick news conference after the AP broke the story, during which Secretary Dirk Kempthorne insisted the proposal would make a "narrow" change to just one section of the Act. In a statement, he explains why he believes it's inappropriate to use the Endangered Species Act to curb global warming: "These changes are designed to reduce the number of unnecessary consultations under the [Endangered Species Act] so that more time and resources can be devoted to the protection of the most vulnerable species. Under the proposed rule, agency actions that could cause an adverse impact to listed species are still subject to the consultation requirement. The proposed rule is consistent with the [Fish and Wildlife Service] current understanding that it is not possible to draw a direct causal link between greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and distant observations of impacts affecting species. As a result, it is inappropriate to consult on a remote agency action involving the contribution of emissions to global warming because it is not possible to link the emissions to impacts on specific listed species such as polar bears.”Conservatives have long tried to make changes to the Act, citing the burden it places on landowners and businesses. But the AP says Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, calls the proposed changes illegal. They should be available for review and public comment soon.