March 3, 2009

Obama Reverses Bush’s Endangered Species Policy

President Obama reversed a Bush Administration rule on Tuesday that environmentalists believed weakened protection for endangered species and their natural habitats.

The new policy, which marks yet another reversal of former president George W. Bush's environmental legacy, restored rules requiring U.S. agencies to consult with independent federal experts to determine if their actions might harm threatened and endangered species.

"We've restored the scientific process to its rightful place at the heart of the Endangered Species Act, a process undermined by past administrations," Obama said during a reception at the Interior Department.

The Bush administration rules issued by the U.S. Interior Department last December allowed for federal agencies to bypass consultation with scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service about whether new projects would harm threatened wildlife.

Until then, federal agencies across the government had been required to consult the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service before funding building projects that damage the habitat of certain animals.

The change was originally enacted as an effort to allow government biologists to focus on the most critical conservation efforts. However, many environmental lobbyists objected, claiming the proposed change would put more species at risk.

"The work of scientists and experts in my administration, including right here in the Interior Department, will be respected," Obama said.

"For more than three decades, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected our nation's most threatened wildlife, and we should be looking for ways to improve it, not weaken it."

Andrew Wetzler, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Endangered Species Program, told CNN News that President Obama's announcement will allow the Endangered Species Act to do what it was intended: protect our nation's endangered plants and animals.

"Reversing the Bush administration's midnight action will restore protections for our last wild places and species."

Obama had words of encouragement for members of the Interior Department, which celebrated its 160th anniversary on Tuesday.

"Throughout our history, there's been a tension between those who've sought to conserve our natural resources for the benefit of future generations and those who have sought to profit from these resources," he told department employees.

"But I'm here to tell you this is a false choice. With smart, sustainable policies, we can grow our economy today and preserve the environment for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren."


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