The Bush administration yesterday said it will allow developers to complete construction and other projects even after belated discoveries that the work could endanger protected...
WASHINGTON The Bush administration yesterday said it will allow developers to complete construction and other projects even after belated discoveries that the work could endanger protected species.
The new rules from the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service restore a Clinton-era initiative known as “no surprises.” It will allow agencies to give blanket assurances to home builders, timber and mining companies and other developers that they won’t have unforeseen requirements to protect rare species once a project has begun.
A federal judge had blocked the rules in June, telling the government it needed to hear more ideas from the public.
Bobby Rayburn, president of the National Association of Home Builders, said the rules strike “a fair balance between two important priorities: protecting endangered species and building adequate, affordable housing.”
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Six groups led by the California-based Spirit of the Sage Council, which represents some American Indians and environmentalists, had challenged the rules from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service, which enforce the Endangered Species Act.
Eric Glitzenstein, a lawyer for the groups, said the rules remain “a legally and scientifically bankrupt policy that can only drive species closer to extinction.”
A rule in effect from 1998 until last June offered some immunity during development. The Clinton administration in 1999 adopted a second rule spelling out narrow circumstances under which permits could be revoked.
Under the rules, landowners and developers must have plans for dealing with species’ habitats if they want to obtain a permit that lets them off the hook for killing, injuring or harassing rare plants and animals.
Such harm to species on the threatened and endangered lists must be during “otherwise lawful development or land-use activities,” Fish and Wildlife officials said in a statement.
The government reserves the right to revoke a permit, if killing a plant or animal “will reduce the likelihood of (its) survival and recovery in the wild … and the Service cannot find a remedy to prevent this situation,” the statement said.
No permits have been revoked so far, Fish and Wildlife spokesman Mitch Snow said.