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May 4, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

Protecting the endangered

Obama administration restores scientific review of federal agency projects

As part of his environmental agenda, President Barack Obama announced in March he would order a review of a regulation approved late last year by the Bush administration that severely weakened the Endangered Species Act.

The prior administration turned its back on animals and plants in December by giving federal agencies permission to ignore input from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service when constructing dams, highways, parking lots and other projects. The reasoning was that many federal agencies have their own scientists, but those individuals don’t necessarily specialize in wildlife and habitat issues.

Thankfully, that wrong-headed regulation has now been reversed.

As announced last week by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, federal agencies will again have to adhere to the protection of endangered species the way they did before the Bush administration. That means consulting with federal fish and wildlife experts before shovels go into the ground.

“By rolling back this 11th hour regulation, we are ensuring that threatened and endangered species continue to receive the full protection of the law,” Salazar said.

Now that the regulation has been reversed, one wonders what then-Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne was thinking when he approved the rule change a month after Obama had been elected and a month before Bush left office. Kempthorne had to know there was a high probability that the regulation would be reversed, given Obama’s vow to strengthen environmental protections.

This is just one of many examples of how the Obama administration is finding itself bogged down by the legacy of the Bush presidency.

The timing of the decision by Salazar and Locke is critical as the nation enters a new phase of construction projects that are being financed by the economic stimulus package. Although these projects are essential to creating jobs and getting the economy moving again, the input from wildlife and habitat scientists will help ensure that endangered plants and animals are protected.

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