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Published: Sunday, 3/8/2009

Sanity on species act

THE Obama Administration has given environmentalists reason to hope again. In yet another reversal of Bush-era policy by the new administration, a weakened Endangered Species Act has been strengthened.

What the former administration did on its way out the door to make the decades-long protection of threatened wildlife almost irrelevant has been thankfully undone. Before the new Bush rule was enacted late last year, federal agencies were required to consult with expert biologists before launching any construction project that could affect endangered species.

But the Bush changes, finalized in December, allowed federal agencies to go ahead on projects without any independent review of crucial wildlife habitat by the Fish and Wildlife Services or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Basically, agencies with little or no wildlife expertise could determine on their own if road-building or other development jeopardized endangered species.

However, the last-minute policy change - which made the U.S. Chamber of Commerce cheer and environmentalists cringe - will revert to "prior long-standing consultation and concurrence practices," said President Obama, who emphasized that in his administration the work of scientists and experts will again be respected. While the regulationsissued in the waning days of the Bush presidency are under review, scientific consultations will be required before any project commences.

Mr. Obama's executive order was welcomed by environmental groups incredulous that scientists who had spent their lives studying wildlife would be ignored under the Bush mandate.

Slowly, but surely, it appears sanity is returning to policy-making concerning the environment as the administration moves to fulfill a campaign pledge to protect it.

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