Salazar, Locke restore ESA consultation requirement

The US Interior and Commerce departments are revoking a George W. Bush administration order and requiring consultations with their two agencies which administer the Endangered Species Act.

Nick Snow
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 29 -- The US Interior and Commerce departments are revoking a George W. Bush administration order and requiring consultations with their two agencies that administer the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the two departments' secretaries announced.

Federal agencies will once again have to consult with wildlife experts at the US Fish and Wildlife Service at DOI and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at Commerce before taking any action which might affect threatened species, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said on Apr. 28.

The action rolls back an order which Salazar's predecessor, Dirk A. Kempthorne, said would simplify regulations at the two agencies by not making them review every action involving the ESA unless they considered it necessary. Kempthorne said this would make operations more efficient and let the agencies give more attention to truly pressing matters.

Salazar characterized it as another Bush administration 11th hour regulation. "By rolling [it] back, we are ensuring that threatened and endangered species continue to receive the full protection of the law. Because science must serve as the foundation for decisions we make, federal agencies proposing to take actions that might affect threatened or endangered species have to consult with biologists at the two departments," he said.

"For decades, the [ESA] has protected threatened species and their habitats. Our decision affirms the administration's commitment to using sound science to promote conservation and protect the environment," Locke said.

The two secretaries said that US President Barack H. Obama directed them in March to review the previous administration's Section 7 regulation in the ESA, which covers consultation. Congress, in the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act, authorized them to revoke the regulation, they added.

Locke and Salazar said the two departments would jointly review the 1986 consultation regulations to determine if any improvements are needed.

Environmental organizations applauded the move. "The Bush rules would have allowed agencies with little or no wildlife expertise to make decisions that could mean life or death for animals like the polar bear. Today's decision restores the important protections for species and their habitats offered by one of our nation's most fundamental environmental laws," said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.

"For decades, the [ESA] has used sound science as the guide to protect America's most vulnerable plants and animals. Today, the Obama administration reaffirmed that politics should not be the driver of these protections. Our nation needs to start investing in new and better infrastructure projects, and restoring this law will make sure we do so without harming our endangered plants and animals," said Rebecca Riley, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council's Endangered Species Project.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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