The White House is proposing to let federal agencies decide for themselves whether construction projects could harm listed species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service announced Monday that they are proposing major changes to the Endangered Species Act, a move that critics say will dramatically weaken federal protection of threatened plants and animals.
The announcement came after the Associated Press obtained a draft proposal of the rule changes [PDF], which seek to bypass the review process for construction projects, such as highways, dams, and mines. Currently, under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies must consult with scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether a project is likely to affect any of the 1,353 animal and plant species listed as endangered or threatened.
The draft rules, which do not need to be approved by Congress but are subject to a 30-day public-comment period, would let each agency decide for itself whether a project would harm listed species.
Additionally, the proposed rules would prohibit federal agencies from assessing the greenhouse gas emissions from construction projects.
If approved, the changes would represent the biggest overhaul of the Endangered Species Act since 1988. They would accomplish through regulations what conservative Republicans have been unable to achieve in Congress: ending some environmental reviews that developers and other federal agencies blame for delays and cost increases on many projects.
The changes would apply to any project a federal agency would fund, build, or authorize. Government wildlife experts currently perform tens of thousands of such reviews each year.
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