US wants changes to Endangered Species Act

August 12, 2008 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, August 12 – The administration of US President George W. Bush has proposed revisions to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) so that the law can not be used to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases.

The new regulations would reduce reviews by government scientists that have been mandatory whenever federal agencies propose projects such as dams or highways that could threaten endangered species.

If the changes are approved they would represent the most significant overhaul of endangered species regulations since 1986.

The changes correspond with findings by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and reflect the administration’s position that "it is not possible to draw a direct causal link between greenhouse gas emissions and distant observations of impacts affecting species such as polar bears," the US Department of the Interior said in a statement.

"We need a regulatory framework that is consistent with the ESA and will address new challenges such as climate change," Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne said in a statement.

"The existing regulations create unnecessary conflicts and delays."

Instead of requiring federal agencies to consult with authorities over each project which may affect an endangered species, Kempthorne proposed that the new regulations continue "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."

Following legal action by environmental protection groups and pressure from Congress, Kempthorne on May 15 announced the polar bear was being placed under ESA protection due to the drastic reduction of arctic ice on which the bear depends for its survival.

According to US government studies, two thirds of the polar bear population will disappear between now and 2050 due to arctic ice loss brought about by global warming.

The May announcement by Kempthorne amounted to the government’s first use of the Endangered Species Act to acknowledge the loss of an animal habitat caused by climate change.

But Kempthorne has insisted that step did not mark a policy shift to attack global warming, and on Monday the Department of the Interior said the ESA did not provide a legal framework to formulate US climate policy or regulate emissions of gases known to cause global warming.

"We are not being good stewards of our resources when we pursue consultation in situations where the potential effects to a species are either unlikely, incapable of being meaningfully evaluated or pose only a remote risk of causing jeopardy to the species or its habitat," Fish and Wildlife Service director Dale Hall said in the statement.


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