WASHINGTON — The White House will announce today that it is reconsidering another controversial last-minute environmental rule by President George W. Bush, an Obama administration official said Monday night.
The Bush-era rule loosened the way the Endangered Species Act guides federal projects, such as roads and dams. The change, finalized in December, eliminated a requirement that federal agencies consult with experts about potential effects on endangered plants and wildlife before allowing projects to go ahead. Instead, federal agencies can determine on their own whether their projects would harm protected species.
A major spending bill speeding through Congress includes language that would empower President Obama to reverse the rule. Without congressional action, the administration would need to undertake a lengthy process to roll back the rule.
The move is Obama's latest step toward reversing Bush's environmental policies. Shortly after his inauguration, Obama ordered all pending Bush regulations to be frozen, including the loosening of some air quality standards and the removal of the gray wolf from the endangered species list. Obama's Interior Department has canceled oil and gas drilling leases near national parks and paused efforts to open coastal areas for drilling and Mountain West oil shale for development.
Obama also directed the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its denial of California's request to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. The EPA will hold a public hearing this week, which could result in the state imposing stricter regulations on automakers.
The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Nick J. Rahall II (D-W. Va.), lauded Obama on Monday night for moving "to restore the protections for endangered species that the Bush administration spent so many years trying to undermine."
Environmentalists said Bush's decision removed a crucial layer of protection for endangered species. Business and industry lobbyists countered that it eliminated unnecessary delays in projects without harming species.
Then-Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne admitted that the move divided Interior officials. The new Interior secretary, Ken Salazar, said in a January interview that he wanted to reconsider the rule.