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Green light for changes to endangered list

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Interior Department assessment finds no big negatives; activists angry

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration on Monday said that changes it wants to make to endangered species rules before President Bush leaves office will have no significant environmental consequences.That's the conclusion of a draft assessment released by the Interior Department that represents one of the last remaining hurdles for the regulations to become final before Jan. 20.

The administration in August proposed letting federal agencies approve power plants, dams and other projects without consulting government wildlife experts in some cases. Current regulations require government biologists to be consulted in all cases — even when a project is unlikely to harm threatened wildlife or the places they live.

The administration acknowledges the change will reduce the number of consultations required under the 35-year-old law. But in its evaluation, it concludes that the new regulations will focus government expertise on cases where it is most needed and result in no harm to species or habitats protected by the statute.

Environmentalists, however, say the review — which was completed by lawyers and political appointees rather than scientists — failed to consider all of the environmental repercussions.

Noah Greenwald, director of the biodiversity program at the Center for Biological Diversity, said he was particularly concerned that the agency failed to thoroughly evaluate the part of the proposal that exempts the gases blamed for global warming from endangered species reviews.

"The assessment continues the Bush administration's attempt to sweep environmental problems under the rug in a mad rush to weaken a rule that protects endangered species," Greenwald said.

Tina Kreisher, an agency spokeswoman, said that both the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service reviewed the assessment and signed off on its conclusions. A 10-day public comment period will help decide whether a more thorough environmental review is needed, she said.

The release of the environmental assessment on the proposed rules follows the conclusion of a 60-day public comment period, which ended earlier this month. The agency received 300,000 comments on the proposal, most of them negative. Last week, officials called 15 people to Washington to review all the comments in 32 hours.



                                               Look at the flowers

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